Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City Manager Sheryl Sculley will receive a $75,000 bonus for her performance in 2017, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Thursday after an executive session with City Council colleagues. The bonus comes in addition to her $450,000 base salary last year.
As part of Sculley’s contract, which expires at the end of 2018, she is eligible for a $100,000 maximum bonus each year. She received $67,000 for her performance in 2016 based on metrics established by then-Mayor Ivy Taylor, but Taylor did not continue those standards at the beginning of 2017. Nirenberg and most Council members, who were elected in mid-2017, have said they favor implementing a more formal performance evaluation.
The city manager’s performance was discussed during several executive sessions, which are closed to the public, this week and last. Nirenberg informed Sculley of the bonus figure after Thursday’s meeting, before speaking with reporters.
Nirenberg praised Sculley’s ability to manage the City’s more than 12,000 employees and $2.7 billion annual budget while overseeing a $850 million bond program approved by voters in 2017.
“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,” Nirenberg said in response to criticism of the size of Sculley’s salary and bonus. “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.”
San Antonio Water System President and CEO Robert Puente was awarded a 5 percent pay raise for 2018. His total compensation, including a bonus, will be $567,480. CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams received a 10.5 percent raise to bring her total compensation to $735,000. SAWS and CPS Energy, which are municipally owned, have about 1,600 and 3,100 employees, respectively.
“[Sculley] is underpaid, believe it or not,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg acknowledged that several challenges arose last year, including a controversial barge contract, Tricentennial mismanagement, embezzlement at Centro San Antonio, and a scandal involving the police department’s special victims unit. But he doesn’t lay blame at Sculley’s feet.
“[A leader shouldn’t be] dinged for every single problem that arises but is judged based on the reaction and the resolution of those problems,” Nirenberg said, adding that Sculley addressed those problems quickly and effectively.
“She has been able to respond very quickly to fires,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), “and put those fires out.”
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), a longtime critic of Sculley’s, said as city manager she is partly responsible for those “basic breakdowns in infrastructure and basic breakdowns in organizational skills and oversight.”
Brockhouse said he wouldn’t have given her a raise at all, pointing to those breakdowns as well as the ongoing lawsuit the City filed against the fire union over its contract.
But that lawsuit is pursued as a policy direction from Council not from the city manager, Nirenberg said. As for the stalled contract negotiations, “a resolution of the [collective bargaining agreement] requires two parties to engage. At this point we have not had that with the fire [union].”
Before running for the District 6 seat, Brockhouse worked for police and fire unions as a political consultant.
“$75,000,” Brockhouse said. “That’s almost double what a family of four makes here in San Antonio.”
He wants the discussions about the city manager’s performance to be held in view of the public. “We should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said, referring to holding discussions about Sculley’s performance in executive session.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said that the bonus paid to Sculley for her performance last year is fair. But he wants to see a more formal, written performance evaluation used to evaluate the city manager from year to year.
“What we’re going to do is engage a professional consultant to give us a compensation survey to make sure we have the salary levels set at the appropriate level,” Nirenberg said. “But also to make sure that we have professionalized metrics moving forward.”
Hiring a consultant and establishing a more permanent solution could take up to six months, but should be ready in time to review the city manager’s 2019 performance. In the meantime, Council will work to establish temporary guidelines for 2018.
“We’re going to have a set of metrics hopefully established within the next month or so to ensure that the city manager, city clerk, and city auditor are being gauged by those metrics for the 2018 year,” Nirenberg said. The clerk and auditor are also appointed by Council and undergo the same review process as the city manager.
“I understand that there are people out there who do not like to see public officials get paid anything,” Pelaez said. “I think that if we were talking about a $10,000 bonus, people would still be crying foul.”
There’s room for improvement, he said of Sculley’s performance, but declined to comment further.
“Sheryl has my admiration,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said in a news release. “Running the City is tough. Not only do you have politics, but it’s like running 30 different businesses. She’s not just overseeing pothole repair. Sheryl’s also responsible for public safety, the airport, pre-K education, building infrastructure, catching stray animals, and picking up garbage for nearly 500 square miles.”
On Friday, Councilman John Courage (D9) told constituents and media via email that he opposed the bonus.
“I think our city manager effectively handles the responsibilities of the position, but I did not think her performance garnered an additional $75,000,” Courage wrote. “There were no concrete metrics or goals in our city manager’s bonus for 2017, and like most personnel decisions, this discussion was held behind closed doors. I thought the bonus’ merits were too vague, and I did not feel she exceeded the expectations of the job. I would have also expected a more public process for the highest paid City employee.”
He circulated “nationally recognized performance evaluations that other cities employ during their performance reviews” to the mayor and Council, Courage noted.