Sheryl Sculley an ‘Agent of Change’ for San Antonio

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San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley speaks about how San Antonio is known as Military City, U.S.A. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Sheryl Sculley’s legacy, which I hope is a lasting one, is the renewal of professionalism at City Hall.

The way she ran things and the energy, intelligence, and honesty with which City Hall was run after she became City manager made us a different city. She made us one of the best-run cities in the United States. She swept away our shortcomings and replaced them with a textbook case study on how things should be done.

She grew our strengths and eliminated our weaknesses.

When I became mayor, there were three City councilmen who had been convicted of crimes. It was not a pretty picture. When Sheryl came here, I wanted her to be an agent of change. I wanted to make this a tight, well-run city that people had faith and confidence in. She did every bit of that and more.

She had the ability to get the most out of our City budget and made sure every dollar was accounted for and well spent. I know that many people thought she made too much money. But what many people didn’t realize is the millions of dollars that she was responsible for bringing into San Antonio.

Let’s look at a few examples.

In her first year of work here, she came in to my office and announced she had found $30 million – not in the budget – that we could now use for needed City expenditures. She had been going through City financial records and found $30 million from several old bonds that were allocated and never spent. Some of these funds were 25 years old and had simply been forgotten – kind of like putting money underneath your mattress and then forgetting it was there.

The newly discovered money was spent, among other things, on new firefighting equipment and protective clothing, which prevented many injuries and saved more than one life. When she was through, no city in the country had better equipment and protective clothing than our firefighters. At the time, Sheryl was making around $300,000 a year, which incrementally rose to her present $500,000 after 13 years. A good salary, but she had already more than made up the combined 13-year salary in her first year here.

Then there was the River Walk extension and the Broadway corridor. The original two miles of the River Walk were built in 1940 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while Maury Maverick Sr. was mayor. Those two miles helped make San Antonio internationally famous, and brought millions of dollars into the city. However, very little had been done with the River Walk from 1940 until 2005, or about 65 years – it was just sitting there with a small extension as a part of HemisFair ’68. Now the Riverwalk is 13 miles long and brings in billions of dollars to our city.

Broadway, which had become neglected and mostly deserted through the years, has been totally transformed, with one high-rise after another, all pouring money into City coffers as well as private pockets. It is truly unrecognizable from the street it was when Sheryl came here. There is more than one author to this incredible success story, such as Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who played a critical role on the Mission Reach – but no one played a more important role than Sheryl Sculley.

Joggers pass by large apartment complexes that have been built on Broadway in recent years.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Joggers during Siclovía pass by large apartment complexes that have been built along Broadway in recent years.

Could it have been done by someone else? Possibly. But it wasn’t. So credit her for putting a few billion dollars into our joint pockets. Notice how many streets are being fixed and new buildings going up. Suffice it to say that if Sheryl lived to be a 100 years old and made $500,000 each year, the balance in San Antonio’s favor would be several billion dollars. Truth is, she has been a money machine for the benefit of San Antonio citizens.

Her securing the AAA bond rating has never been given as much attention as it should. Some people realize in a hazy way that means we pay less interest. That is true, but there’s more to it. Having a AAA rating in a city this size and getting that from where she started – a city that was not always well run, had no money, and had lots of infrastructure problems – was a huge step, and with it came a lot of prestige. San Antonio became known as the best run city in the nation with more than 200,000 inhabitants. The professionalism of that made our city grow in stature and opportunity throughout the country.

Setting all that aside and looking at the financial side of our rating only: If we lose our ratings, we’ll be paying 5 to 10 percent more for all of our big projects than we are presently paying. Why? Because we’ll be paying higher interest rates than we did with the AAA rating. This is more than a few dollars; citywide, it will mean millions of dollars that our City will have to make up with higher taxes or fewer projects.

It wasn’t just that we made some money out of our AAA rating, though we did. It moved us up in the rankings of cities in the United States. At the same time, Sheryl was being recognized by the International City/County Management Association as the most successful city manager in the U.S. Everywhere she turned, things were either helping us in our reputation or making money for us – and not everyone can do that. To try and transform that into an organized, disciplined workforce was a task. She accomplished it successfully. And we made money because of her work.

She made us the city we are today. Not that we weren’t a good city before, but she made us a leader of cities.

With her impending departure, I see us in a precarious situation. Because she transformed City Hall and brought in staff from all over the U.S., the City will likely experience some brain drain when she leaves. I doubt all the people working for the City now will be working here this time next year. They came here because – to use the sports analogy – you go where there’s a great team. That’s why Alabama has such a great football team. Many top players want to go there simply because they want to be on that team. It’s going to be hard to make that happen for a while. I don’t think you can replace Sheryl in that sense. You can hire someone as a successor, but a successor is not a replacement.

With the strictures recently put on future city managers’ pay and tenure, it’s very much like cutting your throat to watch yourself bleed. I see the future as perilous for San Antonio in terms of keeping the standards that we have. San Antonio isn’t going anywhere, of course. We’re an old city with lots of up and downs in our past. We will go on. But if we are not careful, we could easily slide into mediocrity, while other cities thrust past, looking at us in the rearview mirror.

14 thoughts on “Sheryl Sculley an ‘Agent of Change’ for San Antonio

  1. Thank you Mayor Hardberger for restoring credibility to our city government. Before you were begged and convinced to run for Mayor, San Antonio was the national laughing stock.
    We grew up and emerged a great city under your leadership. The decision to recruit Sheryl Sculley in retrospect was brilliant. We have so much to be grateful for that she delivered to us on a silver platter. No one can accomplish as much as she has without ruffling a few feathers. I hope we can build on these great legacies but as you so eloquently point out, we are at a major crossroad.
    Thank you, Sheryl Sculley.
    Thank you, Mayor Hardberger, for continuing to care and shepherd our community with wisdom and guidance.

  2. Well stated! Sheryl is an extremely talented and dedicated professional and she will be missed to the detriment of San Antonio.

    Thank you Phil for having the foresight to hire her!

  3. Great summary! She is one of the best! Always enjoyed working with her, and her leaving is certainly a loss for San Antonio! Bringing her to San Antonio was one of the best things you did Mayor Hardberger!

    • I agree with the positive comments and further add that what Sheryl has done so impressively for city management, so did Mayor Hardberger on a more macro-scale, and Dr. John Folks for Northside ISD as its most transformational Superintendent–to the point of being named Texas Superintendent of the Year for 2011. It takes leaders like Scully, Hardberg and Folks to make things happen and the political price and sacrifices they pay are much appreciated by those of us citizens who do see the value in paying someone well and what they’re worth. Mayor Hardberger clearly indicates that Sheryl has more than earned her “high” salary. Congrats to you all and this great article.

  4. Very well put, Phil Hardberger. We were lucky to have both of you help turn the tide here. We should expect professionalism at every level of government, and Sheryl always held to high standards. You and she have demonstrated that we do not have to settle for the lowest common denominator. Thanks.

  5. The snobbish underlying message here is that voters — the ultimate stakeholders — were basically misinformed & ungrateful for having had such a competent administrator, and now the city will suffer for it. The question remains: Why did a clear majority of voters reject this record of accomplishment? What have officials learned from it?

    The narrative here is that unlike previous Mayors & city managers who moved San Antonio upward & onward toward greater heights with their significant civic achievements, it was Hardberger’s enlightened initiatives which greatly accelerated the city’s standing, except that we see a nationally-rated socioeconomic divide, more than ever. Is this the national talent the city has needed & Hardberger recruited? Citizens needs a yardstick other than what looks good on the ledger & a city manager’s career. They have spoken.

    What lessons can we all learn from this unfortunate experience?

    • I thought he was still sailing around the World; anyway, I appreciate the commentary. Now, FC, municipal elections once again this May 2019 and will begin the path of learning lessons. Maybe, you or I will be around/ reside in SA to see outcome of City Charter Prop B/C. Ohhh…, by the way, I have the means to relocate if so decide!

  6. Hardberger, Castro, Taylor and Sculley were great for San Antonio’s elite. Meanwhile the city became a national disgrace due to high levels of poverty and segregation.
    If she had done more for those impoverished folks maybe the people would have supported her. She chose who she truly served and the losers of the November 6th Referendum are still whining.
    Just be glad that the French yellow vest movement isn’t here in San Antonio…at least not yet.

    • As a past educator, I have seen the impoverished not wanting to take control of their lives and break any FAMILY CYCLE that they need to break, and help themselves. There are numerous of opportunities in this city created by our city leaders that the impoverished can take advantage of , but don’t, only a few. So to say that, Scully and the rest were great for the elite is TOTALLY FALSE.
      The FEW that voted have spoken. If every registered voter had voted, it would have been a different story.
      As for whiners, I think the whiners are the people who WHINE about someone’s salary, just because it is NOT THEM getting that kind of salary!
      IMO Scully deserved EVERY PENNY of her salary!

      • While there exists many similar, “food for thought” materials, pls consider reading/understanding “Constructing and Contesting Structural Inequality” by K. Sabeel Rahman. There is a huge difference between what individuals choose to do or not do and what decisionmakers do or not do re: our ship of state — i.e. local, state, national. If you don’t understand this, I would not have wanted you to teach me, or anyone, anything. Take control of your deeper/wider learning.

  7. I feel this article would have had much more impact had it been written before the vote. Of all the articles on Sculley, none clearly laid out her successes like yours.

  8. This article is beautifully written. I wish it had been published before the vote. I was born and raised here. I went to college and started a family here. The city has improved but I don’t think there has been enough listening to the realities of local life and communication to constituents about how city government works. There’s all kinds of folks in this city. I can’t speak for all. But being in middle class is tough. You don’t qualify or want to be on welfare but you cannot afford a lot. Medical costs are crazy, property taxes have risen so fast, insurance is needed for all kinds of things. Every year new ordinances and fines. Every two years new bonds to fund. It’s been a couple of years now that I don’t participate in Fiesta events because of the cost of living in this city rising so quickly. I walk around the Pearl Brewery. I can’t afford to eat there. The visionary projects have been beautiful but they come at a cost. The school bonds surely do good but also come at a cost. Is it politically incorrect to ask if perhaps the cost is too high at some point? How do you think some of us felt Mayor Hardberger, when we see you and all the insiders, former mayors and all lining up to tell us to vote no? It’s frustrating because we want to improve and are happy to see such projects but the cost looms like a dark cloud and most publications simply imply if we can’t handle it, we need to move. Our city is a compassionate city. Let’s have compassion for each other and have conversations where we listen to each other and see where we are coming from.

  9. I feel the same as I would had citizens who didn’t understand sports successfully petitioned to have Manu Ginobili traded from the Spurs years ago. A sad day to me, but to the petition victors goes the burden of proof. Not optimistic, but watching for any positives that may come from this.

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