Bossy, Bitchy, Bully: Union Targets City Manager With the B-Words

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Graphic from The City of San Antonio's 2013 Annual Report.

Graphic from The City of San Antonio's 2013 Annual Report.

When men lead confidently, they are described as strong, decisive, and  change agents. When women lead confidently, too often they are branded as bossy, bitches or bullies. When was the last time you read of a (male) mayor, county judge or CEO being described as bossy or a bully?

That's the reality still in the American workplace, where women leaders still badly trail men, especially when they hold executive positions supervising traditionally male-driven organizations. Women like City Manager Sheryl Sculley who, as the city's chief executive, is responsible for the city budget and how it is allocated to pay for police and firefighters, the city's civilian employees, and all the services they deliver.

When women like Sculley do excel, it's not uncommon to see them targeted as intimidating or tagged with one or more of the B-words: Bossy, Bitchy, Bully. It's an effective way to change the subject when change is the real issue or the status quo is being challenged.

Lean In at Your Own Risk

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavéz, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA and the former head of Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas,  had an interesting conversation on the subject published Friday in the Wall Street Journal. They've teamed together to form Ban Bossy, a national initiative that aims to close the "confidence gap" instilled into every young girl who asserts herself in the classroom, on the playground, or in the neighborhood.

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley

It's a timely undertaking if you live in San Antonio, where Sculley has arguably taken on the biggest reform of her eight-year tenure as the city's chief executive.

For some years now, Sculley has warned a succession of City Councils that the overly generous contract awarded the city's police and firefighter unions during the 1980s has been building into a perfect financial storm with each passing year.

The city spends $19,000 annually on benefits for uniformed personnel, compared to $7,000 for each civilian employee. There's no equality in the system, nor is it sustainable.

No other major Texas city spends anywhere near the same sum on benefits for its police and firefighters. PFM, an Austin consulting firm hired by the city's Healthcare & Retirement Benefits Task Force to compare public safety compensation (salary plus benefits) in Texas cities, ranked San Antonio's firefighters tied for first with Austin, and ranked San Antonio's police as second only to Austin. San Antonio's public safety employees are better paid than their counterparts in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. And they get a benefits package unequaled elsewhere in the state.

Readers who want to review the city budget and its pension and health care costs can click here to access the same presentation made by city officials to the task force last October.

I'm all for our city's finest and their leadership, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood. Anyone who tracks public safety practices and crime trends has to feel good about the progress we have made in San Antonio over the last decade or more.

But that doesn't mean uniformed personnel deserve special treatment. It's incredible, actually, that they make zero contributions to their own health care plan for themselves or their dependents, while every city employee who doesn't wear a uniform, does have to pay in for themselves and their dependents. For anyone who opposes social inequality, it's hard to justify the free ride the cops and firefighters enjoy.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus

Public safety costs now account for two-thirds of the city budget, and Sculley has warned that those costs could take up 100 percent of the budget by 2031. She doesn't have to be exactly right in the percentage and the year for such a trend to set off alarms. Those runaway health care costs for the city's uniformed personnel are at the heart of Sculley's efforts to negotiate a more realistic contract with the union as the old one expires.

I'm bothered more by the union's name calling and its fear-mongering campaign than its challenge to the numbers. The real problem, they want taxpayers to think, is the female city manager, who they say is a bully resorting to intimidation. That makes for more sensational, page-one headlines than budget projections that many people simply do not understand. Of course, that's why we hire smart managers. They do understand the numbers and where those numbers are taking us as a city.

No one would pick a fight with the police or firefighters union without good reason. The counter-attack inevitably is going to question the challenger's respect and appreciation for men and women in uniform on the front lines of public safety.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood

Sculley has received measured public support from Mayor Julián Castro, but he has not forcefully confronted the union leadership on their name calling in the mainstream media, tactics that seek to demonize Sculley. McManus and Hood have been quiet on the subject, too. Yes, they have to lead the police and fire departments when the dispute is put to rest, but they are leaders and managers and thus have some obligation to speak up for their boss and the validity of her fiscal arguments.

City Council members have the same obligation. Some might say openly opposing the unions is political suicide, but at least four of the current council members can remind unions officials that they won elective office without union support, thank you. Elected officials can cite their responsibilities to all taxpayers as a legitimate reason for supporting a renegotiated benefits plan. Those with higher political ambitions might find that a record that reflects political courage stands the test of time better than one that seeks accommodation.

The task force, led by former Councilman Reed Williams, will deliver its findings at the Wednesday, March 19 B Session. Mayor Castro has invited the union-led minority on the task force to present its report, too.

That probably isn't going to happen. Mike Helle, the president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, and Jerry Cortes, representing the firefighters, have lamely asserted that they fear retaliation by Sculley. It's a genuine spectacle to see grown men surrounded by guys in uniform wearing service sidearms, stun guns and handcuffs expressing fear of a  woman executive.

The sideshow, of course, is meant to distract from the real debate and to turn Sculley into a villain. It's also meant to make city council members think twice about their own uninsured political futures.

It's possible, of course, for Mayor Castro and members of the city council to ignore the posturing and name calling.  They can start by saying they will not tolerate union leaders playing the B-card against Sculley or any other woman in public life in San Antonio.  Let them know such mud-slinging might make headlines, but it no longer plays in a City on the Rise.

*Featured/top image: Graphic from The City of San Antonio's 2013 Annual Report.

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13 thoughts on “Bossy, Bitchy, Bully: Union Targets City Manager With the B-Words

  1. Bob:

    I am not normally a commenter on websites, mainly because of the outlandish and insulting remarks lobbed from behind some fake name or Twitter handle. I have seen the exact opposite on your site and you should be commended for the good work the team at Rivard is doing. I wanted to put a few thoughts out here after reading your post. Out of fairness to my discussion, the firm I work for represents the Police and Fire Political Action Committees. The comments I make are not authorized or approved by my firm or the PAC’s. I do this on my own accord.

    I have been in an around city politics for years. I have been in and around the discussion regarding the Health and Benefits Task Force for some time now. I have seen the inner workings of the Police and Fire teams as they work together to answer the media onslaught from the City over the last year. This much is certain:

    I have never heard them utter a derogatory term in reference to the City Manager’s gender. Not once. You can attribute that to my professional relationship with the Unions as an easy way to discount what I say, but it does not change the facts.

    Lately, the word “bully” has been thrown around and that is on the record. As most know, a bully is gender neutral. A bully uses intimidation and fear, its a power play. I am not leaving this note to argue against Sheryl. I have seen Sheryl in action many times. I have personally worked for women over the years who led with the same strength of conviction, intelligence, and nerve. The best folks and the most challenging I have ever worked for were women. However, sometimes those exact same women used tactics and approaches that were perceived as bullying.

    Just because a leader sits in an office and thinks they are doing all they can to save the organization doesn’t mean the people working for them do not feel intimidated or fearful for their employment. Its human nature. And to dismiss the uniformed officers from such concern for their employment because they wear sidearms, stun guns, or handcuffs is a dangerous oversimplification.

    The leaders of the Unions are every day uniformed officers thrust into quite a challenging leadership environment. I don’t want to be a shill for any Union points on my personal time, but I think its important for readers to know there are multiple sides to a story, the facts, and the PR work.

    I close with one more point. Bringing gender into the discussion and positioning this as a potential sexist or gender based issue does absolutely zero for the process. In fact it manufactures an issue that is not part of the negotiation. Sheryl has done much for our City. She came in ready to lead and made serious fiscal and process driven changes throughout the City. Trust me, over the years many have felt the intimidation of those actions at the City and I am sure bossy, bitchy, or bully were tossed around quite a bit.

    This doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with Sheryl’s gender. It has everything to do with Sheryl having “leaned in” and tackled an issue she felt was at the top of her list. The Unions pushed back. And now we have a genuine debate.

    Let’s be thankful for that and let them do what they have to during the course of this negotiation without inserting more division into a volatile conversation.

    Thank you for your time reading my lengthy post. And thank you for the good work. I may be on the other side of certain issues Rivard covers, but I am thankful to read and learn from different perspectives to broaden my own viewpoints.


    • Greg, many thanks for your thoughtful comment. We pride ourselves in hosting a site where people can join the conversation knowing they won’t be flamed or hit with a snark attack. That requires us to moderate the comments, but it’s worth it. The anonymous posters on other local media sites who engage in some pretty hateful rhetoric are welcome to register their clicks elsewhere. We’ll settle for less traffic of a much higher caliber. that comes from readers like you. By the way, this morning’s column was my opinion. The Rivard Report would welcome a submission from you or someone representing the police/fire unions, as long as it’s civil. I’m sure it will be. Just send it to me at rivard@rivardreport. –RR

      • Wow! Just wow! Greg, that was awesome! I’m not part of the staff and I know they usually insist on someone like you writing an article expressing your viewpoint so I’ll do so in their stead. Please, please write an article!

  2. It was obvious from the beginning that the overly generous contract awarded the city’s police and firefighter unions during the 1980s would be building into a perfect financial storm with each passing year.
    The city spends $19,000 annually on benefits for uniformed personnel, compared to $7,000 for each civilian employee. There’s no equality in the system, nor is it sustainable.
    So now Sheryl Sculley has the job of scaling this generous contract back to where it should have been originally. None of the “B” words describe this lady. She has always worked hard for our city and it wouldn’t be where it is today without her leadership!

  3. Wonderful article, Bob. Most businesses were forced to tackle this difficult issue years ago. Sculley has done a superior job of managing our fair city.

  4. Lance

    I will clarify that one sentence to note that no Texas city, including Austin, spends as much as San Antonio on its benefits package. Thanks for pointing that out and for posting a comment. –RR

  5. Note: I updated the last paragraph a bit, and added “(e.g., is Civics even being taught anymore in public schools?)” to a paragraph in the middle … Thanks for reading…

    Is it me or does this make no sense? —
    ‘No other major Texas city spends anywhere near the same sum on its police and firefighters. PFM, an Austin consulting firm… compar[ing] public safety compensation (salary plus benefits) in Texas cities, ranked San Antonio’s firefighters tied for first with Austin, and ranked San Antonio’s police as second only to Austin.”

    The real problem to me is that Texas needs a state income tax and taxes, generally, need to be raised progressively — the top income tax bracket being approx. 40%-50%, as people like Paul Krugman have recommended. There also, I believe, should be a Financial Transaction Tax. This would all generate huge amounts of revenue at federal and state levels, and in a fair way. Finally, there should be ‘medicare for all’. All of this, I also believe, could happen by 2031 (to use the date mentioned in the article as a benchmark), if not sooner. Locally, I can only see it happening (e.g., enacting a state income tax), however, with Texas turning blue (the sooner-the-better).

    Suffice it to say, a better approach is to work towards and implement more systemic fixes, such as the ones suggested above, rather than by patchwork and papering-over fixes that don’t really fix the problems in the existing ill-funded system. All of these funding/revenue issues, of course, go directly towards the city’s budget problems, as well.

    I think in order to start fixing these problems systemically, it’s important to get out the narrative, reminding people of the importance and actual good of paying taxes (e.g., is Civics even being taught anymore in public schools?), and, indeed, increasing taxes — with a fair and progressive tax system. This would also help fund social security, especially if we raised the cap on social security (an easy fix), and so on.

    It’s very exciting to see so much activity and change happening with the minimum-wage — hopefully it will bear out to be an actual living wage. And hopefully, it is a sign of a changing mainstream attitude, where more and more people are realizing the importance and mutual healthiness and benefits of sharing resources, in a fair and equitable way, so everyone, at minimum, can have a decent and dignified life.

    Of note, I’m not affiliated with police or firefighters in any way, nor I am I an employee of COSA. I’m a student of Public Administration at UTSA and I agree with the article that the use of the “b” words are archaic, and, in fact, is a form of ‘bullying’ itself. Did anyone actually say this of Sheryl Sculley on which this article is reporting?

      • Also, How would a civics class work? People would still be guided by their senses, location, self interest and other factors (as well as issues) at the voting booth. The system, all systems, are imperfect sure. We need to innovate our way out of these problems. Commercial systems evolve and our government is lagging behind. How do we fix this?

  6. Who paid you to write these lies?? Lol look at the headlines now man keep up what are you even reporting everyone can’t stand her I guess she paid you too

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