Council Selects Erik Walsh as Finalist for San Antonio’s Next City Manager

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Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Erik Walsh has been named finalist for the position of San Antonio city manager.

After nearly six hours of interviews and deliberations on Wednesday, City Council selected Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh as finalist for the next city manager of San Antonio. City Council is slated to vote on the appointment and contract during its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Walsh was chosen from a field of 31 applicants that was narrowed to eight last week – all six of outgoing City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s lieutenants and two out-of-town candidates – then to two on Tuesday. Assistant City Manager María Villagómez also made it to the final round of closed-door interviews Wednesday. Both candidates were called back to answer more questions, indicating that there was considerable debate among Council members.

“We had two candidates who were very highly esteemed and qualified employees of the City that we’ve worked with for a long time, so we had some good discussion about particular issues that we’ve faced together over the last several years,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “That’s how we expected it go, it wasn’t going to be easy. But I’m very grateful with the professionalism and transparency by which we engaged it.”

Walsh will take part in several stakeholder meetings with various groups throughout the city, Nirenberg said, and a public symposium on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at UTSA’s Downtown Campus.

A 49-year-old native San Antonian who graduated from Central Catholic High School, Walsh started his career with the City nearly 25 years ago as a budget analyst – two weeks after he graduated with a masters in urban administration from Trinity University. He became an assistant city manager in 2006, then deputy in 2011.

Walsh is inheriting a strategic minefield with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association after almost five years of near-silent contract negotiations between the City and firefighters union, a dropped constitutional lawsuit, and a vitriolic proposition election.

But the next city manager also will inherit “a much stronger leadership and executive organization – and a stronger City of San Antonio,” Sculley said. When she was recruited to the position 13 years ago, she said, it was to make “dramatic changes” – there were no internal candidates. “It’s a different organization [now], a much better one.”

In his opening statement Wednesday, Walsh said he has seen the City “change greatly” over the course of his career. “It has become an employer of choice and exemplifies public service in ways that I think we all recognize are dynamic and progressive,” he said.

His immediate priorities as city manager will be to focus on the state legislative agenda and anticipate impacts, implement the affordable housing plan, develop a long-term funding strategy for Haven for Hope as directed by Council, and review the status of the dockless vehicle pilot program for “immediate term” changes.

“There are also a number of organizational issues that I think, frankly … should be priorities of the next city manager,” Walsh said.

“The manager needs to be aligned with Council’s expectations, and that needs to happen up front and be very clear,” he said.  A comprehensive calendar that outlines the timing of various initiatives and votes should be shared with Council members and the public, he said. As city manager, he pledged to engage with community and stakeholder groups.

Walsh has been married for almost 16 years and has two children. His mother is Hispanic; his father is Irish.

“The Spurs don’t play basketball without a backboard, and my family is my backboard,” he said.

“I applied for this position because I want San Antonio to be economically viable, safe, and culturally inspiring – and a place where people want to work, grow, and raise a family,” he said.

When the hiring process started, Sculley said she and her team of executives agreed “that we would support one another regardless of who was selected.”

She was set to leave no later than June 30, but because an internal candidate was chosen, she said, she doesn’t expect to stay that long. A timeline hasn’t been established with the mayor, she said, but she predicted “late spring” as a departure time.

The fact that her two deputies and four assistants fared so well throughout the interview process, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, “in itself is a tribute to Sheryl, too. … [She built] a team, and that team knows how to stick together and connect to the community.”

Before the last round of interviews, Sculley said she was “extremely proud” of each member of her team and did not pick a favorite between Walsh and Villagómez.

“I’m confident that either one of them could do a great job leading this organization,” she said, adding that Council’s decision would likely come down to “who they feel most comfortable working with.”

Villagómez, 45, is a certified public accountant and also a San Antonio native. She graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree of business administration in accounting. The following year, the City of San Antonio hired her as a fiscal officer and accountant. She has prepared and overseen 12 budgets as budget director and assistant city manager, to which she was promoted in 2015.

“My immediate priorities will be executing City Council-approved priorities – including affordable housing, transportation, street maintenance, meaningful public participation – and continuing to invite the fire union to the table to negotiate a contract that is fair to our firefighters and affordable to our tax payers,” Villagómez said.

Villagómez, who grew up in Mexico and returned to San Antonio when she was 18, concluded her opening statement in Spanish.

“I don’t have a negative word to say about either [candidate],” Nirenberg said. “I think we may very well see two city managers for San Antonio in this in the sense that perhaps María’s time just hasn’t come yet.

“She is every bit as qualified to run a big city as Erik is. I think Erik is just ready right now,” he said.

As one of two deputies to the city manager, Walsh has departmental experience that’s important for a city of San Antonio’s size, Nirenberg added. “He’s also had the reins of the City … in absence of the current city manager he’s been at the controls before and has served quite well.”

His experience overseeing police and fire departments – as well as previous contract negotiations – will likely prove useful, too, he said.

13 thoughts on “Council Selects Erik Walsh as Finalist for San Antonio’s Next City Manager

  1. Was Sculley’s ethnic background divulged after she got the job? I find it odd that Walsh’s ethnicity was mentioned in this article.

    • Yep – Politically Correct. Got to play the game. Hope he was hired on his qualifications alone. Best wishes to Mr. Walsh – I think he can perform the job and return great results for San Antonio.

  2. I don’t think mentioning Walsh’s ethnicity was an attempt at political correctness but I don’t know why that was mentioned. The article also mentioned that Villagómez, the runner-up, spoke Spanish in her interview. But no mention of her parents’ ethnicity. Why didn’t this article mention whether or not Walsh can speak Spanish.
    I have a friend whose last name is Escobar — she took her husband’s last name upon marriage. She is a “white” person. Coworkers have assumed she was Hispanic based on her last name. Maybe Villagómez is “white” with the last name of a Spanish-surnamed marriage partner? Or maybe she was adopted by a Hispanic couple?
    Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And totally immaterial.
    I’m just baffled why this news outlet for San Antonio — a “minority majority” city — felt it was informative to mention Walsh’s parents’ ethnicity. Now that Rivard Report has brought that subject up, are we supposed to wonder what ethnicity Walsh indicates for himself on those forms seeking demographic info? If his ethnicity was asked on his application for the position, isn’t that….er….illegal?!?!?!
    Now I’m really curious: The article says Walsh’s dad is “Irish.” Is he Irish American? Is he an immigrant from Ireland? Was Walsh’s dad’s mom Irish, too?
    WHO CARES?!?!?!
    (I am relieved that Rivard Report didn’t “dig deeper” to report the ethnicity of Walsh’s wife and what his two kids consider themselves. Again, WHO CARES?)

    • Mark, apologies for the delay. Our system holds comments that exceed a certain character count, which was the case here. We work as quickly as we can, but sometimes it takes us a second to approve them. The Rivard Report is not the only news outlet to mention Walsh’s heritage. Culture, race, and heritage are important elements of society and – like it or not – politics. Reporting on Walsh’s heritage served to inform our readers as we did with the other finalist in this and a previous story, i.e. “Villagómez, who grew up in Mexico and returned to San Antonio when she was 18, concluded her opening statement in Spanish.”

  3. Congratulations, Mr. Walsh, and best of luck with the corrupt leader of the FireFighters’ Union. Maybe Steele will play nice with you since you’re a man.

    In all sincerity, I look forward to your tenure and to positive growth for San Antonio!

  4. Also interesting the need to write that he is a graduate of Central Catholic High School. The graduated of Central Catholic seem to have a leg up on many city positions. Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Walsh and I wish him the best of luck in his new job.

      • LOL Councilman! I think San Antonio will continue to prosper with Trinity Alumni leading the City! Congratulations Erik! I also was happy to see María as one two finalist.

  5. Does Rivard Report block certain repeat commentors? I commented to this article shortly after it appeared. Someone commented on my comment. I then commented on his. No profanity, accusations, snark, or anything — just observations about why Walsh’s parents’ ethnicity and Villagomez’s use of Spanish were mentioned. For some reason, that comment was not posted (I posted it a second time and got a message that “your comment has been posted,” but it hadn’t. And still hasn’t been posted although comments posted subsequent to mine appear here. Is Rivard Report thin-skinned? If you have a policy about censuring commentors, what is that policy? Perhaps I should cancel my RR subscription….

    • Hi Mark. Yours did not violate our policy (located right above the comment section in every story), but got caught in a filter due to its length (see my other response).

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