City Manager Sheryl Sculley along with Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh monitor the press conference from the side. Photo by Scott Ball.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley (left) and Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh monitor a press conference on police union negotiations in 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Former San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley can’t take full credit for the title of her new book, “Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis.”

It was 2014 when Mike Helle, president of the police union, said in a video: “The city manager and her team has done everything she possibly could to try to make us look like greedy bastards trying to break the city of San Antonio. That is absolutely 100 percent false and a lie.”

At the time, the City was embroiled with the union over officer health care benefits that would, Sculley said, eventually bankrupt San Antonio.

“I joked as soon as I saw [the video],” she told the Rivard Report this week, “if I ever write a book, he just gave me the title.”

The book hits shelves on Aug. 11, and you can read the introduction on her website. That same day, Sculley will sit down for a free, live-streamed interview at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl with Rivard Report editor and publisher Robert Rivard.

“I was brought here to overhaul the organization and in the process discovered how damaging these contracts could be long term for the city,” Sculley said. “This is also a guidebook for city managers, elected officials, and communities across the country that are trying to make changes within their organizations and within their union contracts.”

The book includes insights into the issues the City faced in 2005 and how tackling those led Sculley to challenge the police and firefighter union labor contracts.

“I dedicated the book to the residents of San Antonio and to our first responders who keep us safe,” she said.

Greedy Bastards, Sheryl Sculley. Credit: Courtesy / Lioncrest Publishing

For decades, the unions’ and their premium-free health care plans were considered political sacred cows: elected officials didn’t dare challenge unions for fear the public would see it as an attack on San Antonio’s widely respected first responders.

And, when Sculley demonstrated the ballooning cost of health care to the City, union leaders framed the conversation around that fear.

The phrase “greedy bastards” was meant to malign her in the minds of residents, but ended up describing their tactics and the lengths that “the unions would go to protect the old business models of their contract even if it meant harm to the city,” she said.

The title of the book “also reflects how dirty the fight would get,” Sculley said.

Ultimately, the police union agreed to adjusted health care benefits plans in 2016 which saved the City more than $100 million. The fire union arrived at the same health care plans through binding arbitration in February after the union initiated one of the most divisive elections San Antonio has seen in recent history. Less than a month after the election, Sculley retired after 13 years in the job.

The police union’s contract expires in 2021 and negotiations are slated to start January. The international Black Lives Matter movement has reignited calls for police disciplinary reform that the City tried but failed to address in 2016. A petition aimed at repealing the state law that allows public safety unions to collectively bargain for their contracts and establishes rules around hiring, firing, and disciplining police officers will launch in the coming weeks.

The timing of Sculley’s book launch, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, turned out to be “perfect,” she said.

“The book is more relevant today than when I started writing it a year ago because there is still more work to be done,” she said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

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