San Antonio City Manager Draws Fire Over Her Job Review Process

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Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) and City Manager Sheryl Sculley (right) during a recent City Council meeting.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) and City Manager Sheryl Sculley (right) during a recent City Council meeting.

In San Antonio’s council-manager government, the city manager is responsible for a $2.7 billion budget and is the ultimate authority over the 12,000 employees who run the City’s day-to-day operations. City Manager Sheryl Sculley is paid handsomely for her work – in 2016 her base pay was greater than her counterparts in Dallas, Phoenix, and Austin.

Now one of Sculley’s frequent City Council critics thinks she has amassed too much power during her 12-year tenure, and that it’s time to track her job performance on paper through a rigorous review process.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) on Jan. 10 sent a statement to his colleagues and local media detailing his “grave concerns” about what he called a “total lack of documented oversight of the City Manager.”

Sculley, who has been city manager since November 2005, is the City of San Antonio’s highest-paid employee, earning a base salary of $450,000 in 2017 and $475,000 in 2018. In 2016, she earned close to $590,000, with a base pay of $425,000 and other compensation.

Sculley has outlined her accomplishments in memos at least half a dozen times during her tenure, according to a Rivard Report review, and has annual performance discussions with the mayor. Her 2005 contract required that she be reviewed in executive sessions annually, “but preferably every six months.”

“The sum of my professional experience is that council-manager form of government cities evaluate city manager performance through discussion in executive session and that written evaluations are not the norm,” Sculley told the Rivard Report via text.

That doesn’t satisfy Brockhouse, who has a history of disputes with Sculley on several issues. “For that level of responsibility, authority, and compensation, it’s egregious to not have that documented,” he said.

Currently, performance evaluations are essentially up to the mayor, City staff said. Through annual interviews that the mayor conducts with Council members, they arrive at a general consensus on how the city manager performed, and the mayor conveys that to Sculley. A similar review process occurs for the City auditor and clerk, as they are also appointed by elected officials. Mayor Ron Nirenberg recently concluded those interviews.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Mayor Ron Nirenberg discuss a budget item.

After finding out that “no documentation exists at City Hall or Human Resources detailing the City Manager’s performance, growth opportunities, or bonus evaluations and criteria for her entire tenure with the City,” Brockhouse in his statement called for immediate implementation of a “standard performance expectation template” and creation of a “records retention process” so Council members can review Sculley’s past job performance.

Nirenberg says he already was considering a change in process when he learned of Brockhouse’s concerns, but a new system won’t be in place in time for Sculley’s 2017 review.

“We’re going into 2018 with a more formal evaluation process,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report.

At the end of 2017, Nirenberg said he directed his staff to start looking into ways to improve the review process and that he will use staff and Council feedback to create performance standards for Sculley’s 2018 performance.

Brockhouse said when he started to prepare for the latest review meeting with Nirenberg, he asked for documentation of Sculley’s previous performance reviews.

“I did have a review session with the mayor” in which they discussed Sculley’s job performance, Brockhouse said. But without documentation, reviewing her performance “is ridiculous – I have nothing to gauge her on. … I don’t even know what the expectations and goals for her were for the year.”

The only documentation that exists are Sculley’s end-of-year memos; since she was hired by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger, she has sent five such memos, according to documents obtained by the Rivard Report. Sculley’s office produced other summaries listing accomplishments in 2013 and 2015.

Sculley’s contract has been extended, with salary raises and amendments, five times since 2005. During that time, she has worked with nearly 50 Council members and four mayors.

“Each mayor has chosen to discuss my performance one-on-one with each council member, summarize the results, and discuss those results with me,” Sculley said in a text message.

That kind of verbal review process is “not uncommon” in council-manager governments, said Michele Frisby, director of public information for the International City/County Management Association. The association conducts research, provides training materials, and advocates for professional local-government management. Its membership includes more than 10,000 city and county leaders and experts around the world. Sculley is one of them.

An ICMA handbook regarding manager evaluations outlines that documented performance reviews like the one Brockhouse suggests are preferred, Frisby noted. “We would recommend that as the model.”

But the most important thing in the review process is communication, she said. “It’s not just an opportunity to evaluate the manager’s performance. It’s an opportunity for elected officials and appointed chief administrators to have a conversation about where the community is going and how it’s going to get there.”

Conversations about performance should be conducted between supervisors and employees – or elected officials and administrators – at least twice a year, Frisby said. “There really shouldn’t be any surprises.”

The mayor’s staff is looking into which metrics to include and considering hiring a consultant to professionalize the process, Nirenberg said. “I hope to truly formalize it and adopt best practices that have been observed by the industry.”

In 2016, then-Mayor Ivy Taylor and the Council started the first performance-based bonus system for Sculley that included a list of specific goals for the city manager. She was eligible for a $100,000 bonus and received $67,000 of that for her performance that year.

“This was done primarily because three council members wanted my bonus tied to reaching a settlement of the police union contract,” Sculley said last week. A deal was reached for a new five-year contract between the City of San Antonio and the police union in September 2016.

City staff led by Mayor Ivy Taylor walks down the steps of City Hall before a press conference to resume city/police union negotiations. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Former Mayor Ivy Taylor (center) and City Manager Sheryl Sculley (second from right) walk down the steps of City Hall before a press conference on resuming the City’s negotiations with the police union.

The bonus replaced an automatic retention bonus that in one year was as high as $65,000. The review and metrics for the bonus were discontinued when Nirenberg and the new council took office in 2017. In 2018, Sculley could earn as much as $575,000, including bonuses.

“Part of the challenge is we have Council members filtering in and out every two years,” Nirenberg said.

While elected officials come and go, part of the city manager’s role is to carry institutional knowledge and consistency through to each new administration.

“She has seen something like 40 different Council members, and everybody has a different opinion about what they need,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. “The reality is nothing limits our opportunity to express what we want out of City management.”

With new leaders come new expectations, making a standardized process tricky, Frisby said, but not impossible.

The ICMA handbook does not recommend directly tying compensation to performance, as politics often play a large role in how elected officials publicly evaluate an administrator – thus jeopardizing honest communication.

Frisby noted that an evaluation discussion needs to be a “threat-free conversation” about where the community is going and provide “flexibility and consistency regardless of what’s going on with elected officials.”

The median salary for a city manager leading a city of more than 1 million residents was $283,500 in 2016, according to an ICMA survey of chief administrative officers salaries and compensation. However, the survey did not include all major cities, or San Antonio.

Former Mayor Phil Hardberger (2005-2009) discusses the twin hurricanes that brought aid from Mexico.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Phil Hardberger served as mayor of San Antonio from 2005-2009.

For fiscal year 2016, Sculley’s pay was nearly $590,000, including base pay ($425,000) and other compensation. Then-Austin City Manager Marc Ott received a base pay of $309,441 in 2016 and at least $52,003 in other benefits, according to an Austin American-Statesman report. Former Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez was paid $400,000 in base pay in 2016 with additional allowances. Austin and Dallas also have council-manager governments. Phoenix, the nation’s largest city with that form of government, paid its city manager $315,000 in base salary in 2016. Sculley was an assistant city manager in Phoenix when Mayor Hardberger hired her.

Houston provides no comparison as its strong mayor-council form of government does not have a city manager; rather a city controller serves as the chief financial officer.

City managers have a broad range of responsibilities, but Hardberger tasked Sculley with a major overhaul of city operations and department leadership to improve efficiency. During her tenure, she’s cut down City staff through attrition, appointed all but two of the top executives, overseen major increases in bond programs and projects, and maintained San Antonio’s AAA bond rating, which is rare for a city of its size. Sculley has received several awards from ICMA and other organizations.

SAWS President & CEO Robert Puente socialized before presenting in front of City Council B Session.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

SAWS President & CEO Robert Puente

In comparison, 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.

While the electric utility performed a national industry compensation comparison of public utilities, SAWS is working with a consultant on a similar study alongside a task force that Nirenberg called for. The mayor voted in favor of Gold-Williams’ raise, but voted against Puente’s while calling for the compensation study.

The annual base pay of George Hernández Jr., University Health System CEO, increased nearly 7 percent in 2016, from $620,000 to $650,000, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Hernández also received a $75,000 bonus. Hired in 2005, he oversees a $1.5 billion organization with 7,000 employees.

The language in Sculley’s original contract regarding performance evaluations hasn’t changed since her hiring.

“The Council shall review and evaluate the performance of Manager at least annually and preferably every six months during a properly posted executive session in order to provide the Manager feedback on her performance,” the 2005 contract states.

The tension between Brockhouse and Sculley over her performance reviews is just the latest in a string of challenges from the councilman. Before running for City Council, Brockhouse led the strongest criticism of Sculley as a consultant for the police and fire unions during prolonged contract negotiations. (The City’s lawsuit against the fire union’s contract is pending review by the Texas Supreme Court.)

But now, he said, his complaints about Sculley stem from his charge to advocate for District 6 residents and protect taxpayers. More recently, he blamed scandals and stumbles of two City-related nonprofits – the Tricentennial Commission and Centro San Antonio – on Sculley.

Given Brockhouse’s history with Sculley and his stated ambitions to run for mayor, the Rivard Report asked Nirenberg if he thought Brockhouse’s call for a more standardized review process was politically motivated.

“I take requests like this at face value,” Nirenberg said. “It’s early to start a campaign.”

Treviño answered with his own questions:

“Is this helping the community? Is the time and effort and work benefiting residents and visitors, or is it creating political theater?”

Brockhouse acknowledged his strained past with Sculley, but said his request for a better evaluation process isn’t personal. It’s more about better structure and power balance at City Hall, he said.

“We have to make sure that the power always lies with an elected official,” Brockhouse said, adding that Sculley’s long tenure with the City has “blurred lines” between policy creation – City Council’s job – and implementation, which is Sculley’s.

22 thoughts on “San Antonio City Manager Draws Fire Over Her Job Review Process

  1. How are these high salaries justified at all when there are so many San Antonian’s who are in debt or don’t even have a job? How about we set a cap and spread the money to hire more people to do the work that needs to be done to make this city more livable and equal. Let’s dedicate some of that money to making the streets safer since San Antonio ranks the most dangerous city in Texas for pedestrians. Or how about allot that money to reducing pollution levels since San Antonio is currently in violation of EPA air quality standards. Or maybe repaint and sweep the bike lanes more often so people who chose not to pollute or can’t afford to drive don’t have to risk their lives just to get to work. What about addressing the fact that San Antonio has the 6th highest percentage of overweight adults in the US — a staggering 38.5%. All the while, obesity in SA is going up. These problems need to be addressed. Instead of paying these officials more than they need, lets pay those who don’t have enough to work and resolve these issues.

    • You understand salaries are justified by many variables. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the salaries of these positions.

      In what world do you live in? There are people in debt and without jobs in every city and town in this country and on this planet.

      Maybe no one should get paid for their occupation, by your logic.

      How about you give up half your salary for repainting streets or whatever already funded projects you think need more money.

      I bet you’d snap back to that request real quickly, huh?

      Bottom line it seems, It’s easy to throw stones.

      • I’m obviously living in a world where the disparity between the wealthy and poor is increasing every day. How about we pay everyone a living wage? If that means some people take pay cuts so they have a little less to cut into their luxury vacations and exorbitant outings, so be it. I’m not just talking about San Antonio, but we can be a leader here.

  2. Would someone ask Brockhouse to learn how to smile and to sometimes find something positive to say about the city? He’s the most bah-humbug councilman we have. He’s not going to accomplish his goals by being negative all the time.

  3. It’s especially maddening when Ms. Sculley refuses to cancel that insidious crooked contract between the city (Tricentennial Commission) and KSAT for the Tricentennial media rights. KSAT makes millions while our city gives exclusive media rights to one teensy local station instead of the world. The contcat was drawn up and agreed to in secret, then when it leaked out, they attempted a fake competition, inviting other media outlets to research and proposed their RFPs. Of course, it came out later the deal had already been made long in advance between Scully and the city and Phil Lane at KSAT. This is outrageous, unfair and the contact MUST be cancelled if SA is to have any claim to transparency and fairness.

  4. This piece should have been called “Greg Brockhouse is Mad About a Thing (again).” He’s the Ted Cruz of our City Council, against anything and everything moderate members are for in hopes of boosting his expected run for mayor.

  5. Good grief! If anyone doesn’t know that Brockhouse is in this just for himself, they are sleeping under a “cold” rock. He is positioning himself to run for Mayor and just wants to keep his name in the headlines. Ignore him.

  6. I agree that the article is well documented and unbiased — an example of good and thorough journalism. But the title of the article seems not to represent its content. It suggests that the article is about something the city manager has failed to do — perhaps a dereliction of duty. Isn’t the onus on City Council — about an allegation that it has failed to conduct proper review and evaluation of the city manager? If the process for City Council to follow is prescribed and documented, but it has failed to comply, why does the headline suggest that the city manager is at fault? The content of the article certainly does not support that proposition. The headline is uncharacteristically sensationalist for the RR — not up to the journalistic standard we have come to expect. It is disappointing.

    • Barry, thanks for reading; we appreciate your candid feedback. We stand by the headline, which we believe succinctly and accurately reflects the piece. But we invite you to keep reading and weigh in as we follow the story going forward. Thanks again.

  7. One useful piece of information missing from the story was the relative size of budget and staff in Dallas and Austin. We like to brag on being a larger city (not SMSA) and this is where the size has an impact. Cheryl Sculley not only does a great job, but the job itself requires this level of pay to attract and retain the top notch talent the City must have.

  8. How do you evaluate the job performance of such an important leader for the City of San Antonio? Is our City Manager a good leader for the 12,000 City employees? In my opinion the answer depends on honesty, sincerity, and productivity of City employees- perceived by the public. And this depends on training, leadership, and the example provided by the City Manager.

    Currently, City employees allow subdividing large back yards in existing neighborhoods for new homes in backyards. This is happening throughout San Antonio. In my opinion this is very bad for San Antonio. Storm water is designed to flow to back yards and to front yards in existing neighborhoods. New homes in back yards in existing neighborhoods will divert storm water and often cause damage to adjacent neighbors. Pollutions could be diverted with storm water.

    In my opinion, City employees are not properly trained to correctly interpret the relevant City ordinance for backyard homes (flag lot homes). The City employees are not properly trained to bring this issue before the City Council. City government is tarnished if the public perceives backyard-home-development as favors for a few.

  9. Thank you for the article, Iris.

    City Manager Sculley’s pay is well deserved. I hope we can keep her on board so she can oversee another successful city bond implementation for 2022-2027.
    I am behind Councilman Brockhouse’s request and Mayor Nirenberg’s review for a more formal performance evaluation process, so that it is written down for the ages.
    However, Councilman Brockhouse is throwing his hat in the mayoral ring a little early. I hope to hear from his campaign soon, about what vision he might have for the rest of us SA’ers outside his current responsibility, District 6. Remember, they’re now paying you a full-time salary to get those in-district needs done.

  10. If Brockhouse is singling out the City Manager only, and ignoring the same “grave concerns” about the “total lack of oversight” for the City Clerk and the City Auditor, then yes, it’s about a political beef or an effort to score points.

    But if he extrapolates the concept of undocumented performance feedback to similar positions, then he has a point.

    Should the City Auditor’s office have been more aware of the Centro fraud? Why or why not? I’m sure the Auditor and the Clerk are also “paid handsomely” for their work, depending on which [undisclosed] metrics are used.

    It is somewhat astounding that not one Mayor in Sculley’s tenure has had the forethought to draft a memo that both parties would sign that would document the key points of discussion with a greater specificity than broad policy goals.

    As a long-time City Hall insider, did Brockhouse always feel this was a problem when he was a Chief-of-Staff for other councilmen? It’s seems pretty disingenuous that he claims to have “just found out” about the details of the evaluation process.

    All that being said: this is also another instance of the Mayor looking for another group of paid consultants to determine some metrics that he can take to the Council for their concurrence and approval – and this needs to be done when? That is an expensive technique that kicks the can down the road, dodges personal accountability, and masks an absence of leadership.

    Or just another day at City Hall.

  11. Perhaps Brockhouse is jealous that a woman can make so much money and be so competent? A male CEO successfully controlling a 2.6 billion dollar company would make much more and no questions would be asked. He sounds very anti women. Avoid.

  12. Thanks for including salaries of senior leaders of CPS, SAWS, and University Health Systems (I did not know that was a city entity). What also would be nice would be for The Rivard Report to publicize the performance evaluations of all leaders of city entities and periodically report on progress those entities have made on their stated goals.

    • Yes, thank you Iris for reporting on salaries; didn’t know UHS was city (thought it was county?)
      And great point Ken! Yes, RivardReport, consider me seconding the motion on publicizing performance reviews, formal to off-the-record interviews, of our SA leaders, gov., quasi-gov, and non-profit city partners, as a matter of course.

      • University Health Systems is not a “City” entity, rather a Bexar County entity — which receives public dollars and therefore relevant to the conversation about executive compensation. Thank you Ken and Jonathan for your feedback!

  13. I agree that the review process should be documented and that formal reviews should be on paper, rather than verbal. Accountability is a good thing.

    What isn’t so good is Brockhouse’s grandstanding about it. He clearly has an axe to grind with Sculley, and he is setting himself up to run for mayor.

    Thank you for a well-written and insightful piece.

  14. While no fan of Brockhouse, I applaud his ideas of having the City Manager’s job reviewed on paper, recordable, reviewable, and fileable for anyone to see.
    At the exorbitant salaries paid Skulley, SAWS, CPSE, etc its reidiculous to run a city so unaccountably.

  15. There must be some type of performance evaluation in place for any and all managers in city government. The city manager position is no exception.

    Ms. Sculley has been in the news for months it seems. Everything from the dubious manner in which a Tri-Centennial related contract for media rights was awarded to a local radio station and her selection of a close friend who failed in his performance as the CEO of a non-profit with a very vague mission. These and other decisions in which the manager has played a role should not be overlooked. Were the skids greased for Mr. Sculley to fit into nice job with Bexar County upon arrival? How long has this been going on? Who signed off on the excessive salary? Are these mini-jobs programs for special people? Surely, SA city government can spend its taxpayer dollars in a more efficient and effective manner.

  16. Apparently Manager Scully does not train her Asst. City Managers well. Examples of a lack of training in the areas of Ethics, Open Bidding and Checking Staff Credentials by El Centro’s DiGiovanni and Tricentennial Benavides. She was the sponsor of these guys to the jobs they held and although he tries to keep his distance is Mayor Nirenberg was their cheerleader while a Councilmember. She brought back Police Chief McManus after he had retired. There is a reason for retirement and perhaps McManus let the lawbreakers go without any identification because it was a sign that he is developing dementia?

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