Bonuses for City’s Top Earners Hit a Nerve

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
City Manager Sheryl Sculley listens to the discussion at City Council B Session at Municipal Plaza Building.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

City Manager Sheryl Sculley received a $75,000 bonus on Jan. 15, 2017.

San Antonio is a world-class city that is growing fast, and we need highly qualified officials to lead us. To get and keep them, we must offer competitive salaries.

How? Through salaries plus bonuses and benefits, or through yearly salaries that include the same amount in a one-time payment?

In his Jan. 28 analysis, Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard said City Manager Sheryl Sculley is one of the City’s best investments.

Last fall, Rivard served as a visiting instructor in my graduate program at Our Lady of the Lake University. Having heard his explanations and learned from his reasoning, I feel that he knows what he’s talking about when speaking to Sculley’s performance. I also feel it’s worth paying top dollar to a top executive who will deliver the kind of management our city needs as we move forward.

A large salary is appropriate for someone with the tasks Sculley fulfills, being responsible for a $2.7 billion budget and the ultimate authority over 12,000 City employees.

“If we didn’t have a city manager performing well and it impacted our financial standings, it would cost the City of San Antonio taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg is quoted in a Jan. 25 Rivard Report article. “The fact of the matter is she’s doing extraordinary work making sure we’re a well-run city, and that saves us money on a daily basis.”

At the same time, a well-reasoned assessment of Sculley’s record and accomplishments is important. Nirenberg and most City Council members have stated that they favor a more formal evaluation of the city manager’s job performance.

Then after this comprehensive, well-planned review, the city manager's performance should not have to be reassessed for bonuses.

Unfortunately, “bonus” has a different connotation than “salary.” A salary is thought of as payment for work well done. Some feel bonuses are awarded for efforts above and beyond what is expected or normal. The word “bonus” is emotional, as though it appears in bold letters, highlighted, encircled with flashing, fluorescent lights.

Some people may look at a bonus of $75,000 and wonder – “What on earth did she do to deserve that?" – knowing that is more than they will ever hope to earn in one year. For those working hard to earn money for a family, the idea of a bonus rubs salt in the wound of anxiety or fear of not being able to provide for their loved ones, whereas a high salary for a big job is more understandable and acceptable. We know we need good public servants and are willing to support them, but we must do it wisely.

The debate over bonuses gives undue attention to the subject of salaries. However, if public officials perform a reasonable review once a year – before the following year’s contract is renewed – and pay our leaders one lump payment, any talk about bonuses could be avoided, as could the painful reaction of people like me to whom the word “bonus” sounds like an extravagant overindulgence for those who are already highly paid.

As Sculley is important to our city’s success, we should not balk at compensating her for what she’s worth. I would suggest, however, that the City do it all at once, in an annual salary, after a well-planned review, and then sit back and watch our city grow.

2 thoughts on “Bonuses for City’s Top Earners Hit a Nerve

  1. We pay her to run our city better than other cities and that is exactly what she does. Carrying out councils priorities and carrying them out well are why we pay her a salary that’s more than every other city manager. Every argument I’ve heard supporting the bonuses are for things that she’s expected to do. They’re not above and beyond. Also, she’s not doing this alone. It is the city workers out in the departments who are actually doing all this great work yet she’s the only one that deserves a bonus?

  2. I’ve always felt bonuses should be directly tied to results whether individual or as a company overall. I know my, and my colleagues’, bonuses are.

    As long as there are clear KPIs outlined and as long as that person meets them, a bonus is a perfect way to reward someone.

    Just because she’s a civil servant doesn’t mean she, or the other 11,000, should be excluded from receiving a bonus.

    75k? Yes, that’s a lot of money… but it’s probably proportionate to her salary.

    Just because we all don’t make the same amount, doesn’t mean we should disparage anyone who makes more. We don’t all do the same jobs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *