City Manager Erik Walsh draws a $312,000 salary dictated by the city charter. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A external review of the San Antonio city manager’s compensation found that former City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s salary, $475,000, is within range of the average salary of peer cities and agencies while current City Manager Erik Walsh’s salary, $312,000, is far below the market rate.

While Sculley’s salary was the subject of on-again, off-again criticism during her 13-year tenure, no one in City Council’s meeting room Wednesday seemed caught off guard by the survey’s results. Sculley retired at the end of February.

“The compensation survey for the city manager position told us what we thought we knew, which is that the city of San Antonio was paying [Sculley] competitively to the market,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. “And it confirms the fact that we have a great city manager who’s being dramatically underpaid.”

The market average salary, according to Segal Waters Consulting, is $453,345. Sculley’s actual pay as a percentage of that is 105 percent, within the competitive range for the market, which is 105 percent to 95 percent, said Linda Wishard, the consulting firm’s vice president and senior consultant. 

Walsh’s salary is just under 69 percent of the average market salary.

The salary of Walsh and that of future city managers are capped at 10 times the salary of the lowest paid, full-time City employee after voters approved Proposition B in the November election. The proposition, pushed by the firefighters union, was largely aimed at Sculley.

“I applied for the job,” Walsh said. “I knew what the salary was.”

Salaries for the City of San Antonio’s appointed employees are at or above market averages, according to Segal Waters Consulting Credit: Courtesy / Segal Waters Consulting

City Council commissioned a compensation report and performance metrics in February 2018 after concerns were raised about the lack of formal, written standards for the CEO of the municipal corporation. Until last year, the city manager issued an informal report over previous years and received bonuses based on Council members’ feedback. The report included information for all appointed positions in the City; the city manager, city clerk, internal auditor, and presiding judge of the Municipal Court. Click here to download it.

“It’s fair to say that you are paying these appointed positions correctly and within the market,” Wishard said. 

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), one of Sculley’s toughest critics within or outside  City Council, raised the issue of performance metrics in January 2018. He launched his bid for mayor last month. The firefighters union, for which Brockhouse used to work as a consultant before he was elected to Council in 2017, is aggressively backing his campaign while also negotiating with the City on a new labor deal.

Brockhouse could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Recommended performance metrics for the city manager position were developed by Segal Waters in partnership with the City’s Human Resources department.

“I would anticipate the establishment of those objectives and criteria to be part of the discussion that I’ll have with the full Council,” said Walsh, a former deputy city manager who took over the top administrative position at the City on March 1.

Forty percent of the performance evaluation should have to do with achieving core values and competencies and 60 percent on special initiatives, Wishard said. 

Walsh expects that the evaluation will be a balance between “leadership qualities, those expectations that they have for the chief executive, day-to-day responsibilities [and then other] initiatives – that could be the budget or other things that the Council is focused on,” he said.

As the city develops its fiscal year 2020 budget, those priorities will become more clear, Wishard said, adding that a draft of the next year’s performance standards should be done by the end of July and finalized in late September as fiscal year 2020 starts Oct. 1.

Because of the new constraints on the city manager position, Walsh’s contract did not include the possibility for performance bonuses. So the performance review will not be used to determine a bonus amount as a previous iteration was used for Sculley.

Instead, the performance review will be used for general feedback for Walsh, Nirenberg said, and salary increases as allowed within the confines of the new city charter rules established by Prop B.

“Cost of living goes up, lowest-paid employee salary may go up, and within that range we’ll have adjustments to make based on the performance of the employee,” Nirenberg said.

The city charter can only be changed every two years and because of the timing of elections, San Antonio must wait until 2021 to call for a public vote for further changes.

That’s a decision that’s ultimately up to the voters.

“If we want to continue to enjoy the performance of a great city manager, we’re going to have to make sure that we are paying competitive to the market,” Nirenberg said. “We want to keep the great talent that we have here and part of that is paying people what they’re worth.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com

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