Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Sheryl Sculley announced her retirement as San Antonio’s city manager Thursday morning after 13 years in the job and less than a month after voters approved a city charter amendment limiting the pay and tenure of future city managers.
Although the caps do not apply to Sculley, the vote was widely seen as an indication of dissatisfaction with her compensation.
“This is my decision,” she wrote in an email announcing the move, adding that she has wanted to retire for “at least two years” but had remained in the job to oversee major City projects such as the 2017 municipal bond.
“I have committed to the Mayor and Council to stay through the transition to the next city manager, but will leave no later than June 30, 2019,” she wrote. “I believe this schedule will create an orderly transition for the good of the city organization during the upcoming election season this Spring.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg praised Sculley for her effective fiscal management of city operations and leadership as the city’s longest-serving city manager. Nirenberg said he will speak with Council members about how to proceed with a search for her replacement.
“Sheryl Sculley has proven her mettle in one of the most difficult public positions one can have and can be credited with making San Antonio a healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable city than it has ever been,” Nirenberg said. “We knew this day would come eventually, but the timing is her decision and I respect that – she’s earned that.”
Sculley 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, 66, is eligible for a performance bonus of up to $100,000. The amount of the bonus is subject to Council’s discretion and job performance metrics established by Council. Her contract has been extended, with salary raises and amendments, five times since 2005.
San Antonio operates under a council-manager government that gives the city manager responsibility over the City’s $2.8 billion budget and for 12,000 municipal employees.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who has worked as a consultant for the firefighters and police unions and has said he plans to run for mayor, has been a vocal critic of Sculley’s pay and long tenure, saying she has amassed too much power. He was the lone council member to support Proposition B, the salary-limiting charter amendment passed by 60 percent of voters Nov. 6.
He called for Sculley’s resignation days after the measure passed. The charter amendment limits that the term of the city manager to eight years and the annual compensation for the position to 10 times that of the lowest-paid City employee (roughly $300,000).
“I think the city manager made the right decision,” Brockhouse said. “It was time for change, and the citizens demanded it on Nov. 6. We should be thankful for the years of service Sheryl provided, but it’s time to look forward to the future. And that future is about changing the way City Hall operates and might [lead] to a stronger mayor and council government.”
Proposition B’s new constraints on tenure and salary will make replacing Sculley difficult, Nirenberg said, but he’s optimistic that a suitable candidate will be found.
“Chief among Sheryl’s many strengths is the ability to build a high-performing, professional team,” Nirenberg said, referring to the assistant and deputy city managers she’s cultivated and trained over the years and their succession plans. “Whatever the selection process looks like, my experience and instinct tells me that the best candidates are already local.”
Many City leaders credit Sculley with professionalizing the city’s government while bolstering economic and infrastructure development. During her tenure, she’s cut down City staff through attrition, appointed most of the top municipal executives, overseen major increases in bond programs and projects, and elevated San Antonio’s bond rating to AAA, making it the only city of 1 million people to achieve and maintain that rating from all three major bond rating agencies. Sculley has received several awards from the International City/County Management Association and other organizations.
Before she leaves, she said she hopes she can see the city through successful negotiations with the firefighters union – the driving force behind Proposition B and two other charter amendments.
“I hope they come to the table and negotiate,” Sculley told reporters Thursday after informing City Council of her decision to leave. “Our goal is an affordable and sustainable financial plan for our firefighters.”
At the direction of City Council and then-Mayor Julián Castro, she directed City negotiators to assemble a contract that would start to reign in ballooning health care costs for public safety employees. A deal was reached in 2016 with the police union that starts to do that, but the firefighters union has declined all offers to negotiate until the City’s lawsuit challenging the 10-year evergreen clause is dropped. The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association’s charter amendments targeted Sculley, the referendum process, and gave it an impasse option in negotiations.
It’s unclear if her departure will bring the union to the negotiating table.
Castro, then a council member, initially opposed recruiting Sculley from the City of Phoenix, where she served as assistant city manager for 16 years. At the time, he was running for mayor against Phil Hardberger and said her contract was too expensive. Castro ultimately lost the race and Sculley backed out of the job because of a lack of unanimous Council support. Hardberger and a united Council then successfully recruited her to turn City Hall away from corrupt practices and towards professionalism and efficiency.
The next city manager may be in a similar situation, as the entire Council is up for election in May 2019. Nirenberg said he wants to see a new city manager in place before then.
“The political environment needs to be judged in its own time,” he said. “Can we transition to the next city manager? I would certainly hope that voters elect people professional enough to do that. It may be in fact their ultimate responsibility to do so.”
Sculley said she and her husband Mike “have no plans to leave” San Antonio and she will continue to work in some way. “I’ll never totally retire … I have several possibilities.”