The Choice in San Antonio: City Builders or a City Hall Wrecker

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(From left) Graham Weston shakes hands with UTSA President Taylor Eighmy following the announcement of a $15 million gift in support of the UTSA downtown campus.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

(From left) Graham Weston shakes hands with UTSA President Taylor Eighmy following the announcement of a $15 million gift in support of the UTSA downtown campus.

Taylor Eighmy and Graham Weston were a true portrait of leadership last week – two visionaries coming together to announce a stunning $200-plus million dollar transformation of the downtown campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Eighmy has been president of UTSA exactly one year this month, and already has established himself as a leader with big ideas, last month launching his Presidential Initiative on Research Excellence. Weston, a Rackspace co-founder, has emerged in the last decade as the driving force in the resurrection of downtown San Antonio. The new Frost Bank Tower, which will be completed by the end of 2019, is the signature centerpiece of Weston Urban’s planned redevelopment of, literally, acres of western downtown.

This massive investment in downtown and higher education represents a huge win for Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, and follows the City’s public-private partnership agreement that led to Weston Urban’s ambitious master plan.

Weston’s philanthropic profile has grown steadily since he first became a tri-chair of former Mayor Julián Castro’s SA2020 initiative, and now, with his $15 million gift to fund UTSA’s School of Data Science at the downtown campus, he can be credited with one of the biggest single philanthropic gifts made to a San Antonio institution of higher education.

Pray for his gift inspiring others.

Eighmy and Weston are not alone at this moment in San Antonio’s upward trajectory. Depending on how you tally the numbers, there is either a little more or a little less than $1 billion in research dollars flowing annually into San Antonio leading research institutions. That money funds thousands of jobs for some of the city’s most talented individuals and teams, and will help spark new discoveries, breakthrough treatments and procedures, and the emergence of new commercial enterprises.

Take brain research and the ambitious consortium that has formed in San Antonio, one of the city’s best kept secrets. Earlier this year, UTSA hired Jenny Hseih, a nationally recognized researcher as its Semmes Foundation Chair in Cell Biology and director of the UTSA Brain Health Consortium.

There are now five top-tier research centers working collaboratively in San Antonio:  UTSA’s Neurosciences Institute,  San Antonio Cellular Therapeutics Institute, and South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases; the UT Health San Antonio/UTSA joint venture  Center for Innovative Drug Discovery, and the Institute for Health Disparities Research.

Construction on Methodist Hospital in the Medical Center.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The South Texas Medical Center, which started 50 years ago, has become a destination for medical services and education in San Antonio.

The Rivard Report, in partnership with Methodist Healthcare Ministries and the San Antonio Medical Foundation, will shine a light on quite a bit of this research activity at a Monday luncheon program titled, “The South Texas Medical Center: A Look Back at the First 50 Years, a Look Ahead at the Next 50 Years.”

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

The event aims to celebrate the Medical Center’s founding in 1968, a catalytic year for San Antonio – one that also saw the opening of HemisFair ’68 and the city being ushered into a new, post-war chapter in its 300-year history. The heart of San Antonio’s smart jobs economy is in the Medical Center, which continues to grow robustly alongside the city.

The event also will focus on the nexus of institutions working together in the city to build that research and development combine.

The luncheon panel I will moderate will include Dr. William Henrich, president of UT Health San Antonio; George Hernandez, president and CEO of University Health System; Dr. Colleen Bridger, director of the City of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District; and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

Medical Foundation President Jim Reed will deliver the keynote on the Medical Center’s history, and then panelists will explore its future and the implications for providing health care services in a city expected to grow by more than one million people in the next 25 years.

Time and space required us to limit the panel. It ought to include UTSA, the Southwest Research Institute, and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, too – all major players in this realm.

I connect last week’s news to this week’s luncheon forum to highlight other visionaries and city builders whose relatively low profiles belie the important roles they play in San Antonio. It seems like a particularly important time, with elections looming Nov. 6, to remind citizens of our city’s many accomplished leaders and the direct connection between the actions they take and the prosperity, opportunity, and quality of life we too often take for granted in San Antonio.

Last week saw the last-minute cancellation of an on-stage debate between Nirenberg and the firefighters union President Chris “No-Show” Steele after Steele suddenly pulled out of the event and tried to substitute a proxy. Steele’s unpredictable behavior comes as no surprise to those of us more familiar with him than, say, the tens of thousands of people who signed the union petitions seeking to fundamentally alter the City Charter.

Steele is always a “no-show” in the broadest sense of the words. His public appearances are carefully staged and controlled. He refuses to give interviews to reporters who ask  tough questions. He and his team are usually unavailable to explain their own actions. He parades around in a phony “fire chief” uniform. He has never served in a public office of any kind, and lacks the background or education to serve in any position of public trust.

He’s the boss of the firefighters union, answerable only to his members. He cannot explain why, in San Antonio, the firefighters union believes an attack on the council-manager form of government will benefit anyone other than Steele and his allies. Under his rules, every City Council decision of any import could be subjected to a petition drive and election.

The firefighters union, like the police union before it, has vilified Sculley and made her compensation an issue, cynically playing to a populist audience whose members compare their own earnings to hers. People should compare their responsibilities and their skill sets to hers, too.

Sculley’s compensation is actually less than what several of the leaders I’ve mentioned in this column are paid. All are compensated competitively for their abilities to deliver transformative results, yet only Sculley comes under attack. Ask yourself: Why?  Her compensation is more than justified relative to the return on investment for taxpayers, yet the unions have conducted a multiyear campaign to tear her down, and her office is specifically targeted in the three measures on the Nov. 6 ballot.

San Antonio is at a crossroads. Do we want to continue to build a better-educated, more prosperous, and more equitable city? Or do we want to turn around and go backwards and let a public union call the shots?

Last week in San Antonio showed us both worlds – one where leaders showed up to lead, and one where a pretender went absent and showed us the very different alternative.

29 thoughts on “The Choice in San Antonio: City Builders or a City Hall Wrecker

  1. Interesting point of note that Ivy Taylor was on the 2009 City Council, but recently as mayor, had been trying to “undo” some of the things that happened when she was there. Council members in 2009 were: Mayor Julian Castro. Mary Alice Cisneros. Ivy Taylor. Jennifer Ramos. Phillip Cortez. David Medina. Ray Lopez. Justin Rodriguez. Reed Williams. Elisa Chan. John Clamp. Thank you folks for allowing this evergreen clause to be included in the agreement.

    Perhaps the message is for future councils to only ever allow a maximum of 3-yr contracts because the economy and other variables might require the ability to be responsive. Hopefully once this ridiculousness gets settled, on or before 2024, future councils will learn the lesson.

  2. It is wonderful that Mr. Weston has been so blessed to have the means to earn the title of philanthropist. His vision and $ are awesome for the building of education, higher education that is. On the other hand,Chris Steele may not have The $ means and education of Mr. Weston, but that doesn’t mean he doesnt have the background or education to serve in a position of public trust! Not all public employees have background and education, but they still are hired as a public employee. And to take a step further, there have been several public servants that come to mind that were given positions of public trust and as it turned out they weren’t so trustful, i.e. the latest embezzlement scandal at Centro?! As for city mgr., there are a lot of public employees that have very high skill sets and are not paid for the responsibilities as is is she. More than not, public employees with high skill sets are given the responsibilities without the authority ($$)!

  3. Again the Rivard Report shows its racist, anti-union arrogance.
    I can only wonder if Chris Steele was a White firefighter, would he be given more respect?
    I believe that the uniform Mr. Steele wears is far more genuine than the fake concern shown by the mayor and his corporate masters!

    • Racist? Give me a break. Steele is a coward who had the opportunity to present his case in front of the entire city, and he didn’t even show up. THATS what your voting for? Really smart.

    • Mr Steele follows a line of sideline complainers. It’s a shame the firefighters don’t realize he can’t lead, only complain and distort.

  4. Unions have a history of reaching too far over time to the detriment of their own jobs. Police and fire departments throughout Texas have reached the point in demands that US automobile manufacturing unions reached 4 decades ago, and we all know what happened when the unions’ demands became too expensive and the oversight of the union members’ work quality became too limited. If unions want to demand themselves out of jobs, just privatize the fire department requiring every fireman to reapply for his job just like privatizing schools by establishing a charter school where a public one has existed. Denmark has had privatized fire services for over 100 years:

  5. Re: Scully Let those of you who have ever been responsible for a $2.8 BILLION operation, or supervised a work force of 11,000, cast the first stone.

    • JMF, apart from attempting to inspire an assassination attempt, what is the purpose of your comment? Do you have anything of substance to contribute to the discussion or do you merely want to condone violence?

      • Mark, my brother. If you knew the bible you might understand! Leave it to someone like yourself to think it is meant as an act of violence, when in fact it is not! For the record, i believe in verbal conversation, whether you believe or not. In
        response to nick Lee comment, it means that people like you think city hall is free of sin and the umion is not! Maybe Jesus was specifically talking to you in John8.

        • I got the reference. I also think your comment lacks substance.

          In any disagreement, there is a side to take. Do you throw out verses every time someone criticizes someone else?

  6. The President of the United States is paid less than $200,000 per year. His responsibilities are greater than Sculley’s will ever be. So please explain why Sculley should be paid more than the President of the United States.

    • The President should be paid, or more accurately compensated, with what it takes to attract quality applicants and performance we desire. There are no shortage of top tier applicants for President, so the comp is clearly adequate. We should do the same for city manager. I count on city council to commit the amount needed and no more. Actually, the same concept should apply to all jobs, even public servants. Will fireman vacate for better opportunities offered by other cities if they were paid less for health care or otherwise? We should adjust up or down in the face of that threat.

      • You’re comparing apples, to oranges, to lemons. Appointed vs. voted vs. hired. Requiring relevant experience, or certification, or merely popularity. All public servants. All regulated by the public (or not) very differently..

        In the case of firefighters, they go through rigorous training, certification, and hiring process. They can be fired at any time. In the case of the city manager, appointment and no say by the public, up to the discretion of politicians. The public is at once removed. In the case of President, vote every 4 years by the people. Constantly under the threat of job loss when compared to the other two. Hard to logically compare adjusting up or down salaries when the facets are so wildly different.

        What can be asked, and I think is a more important point, is this…would you pose the same question about the POTUS before casting a stone? With a workforce and operation size many magnitudes greater than that of the city manager…as previously suggested in a prior comment.

        We are suddenly not allowed to criticize the city manager because of the size and importance of her operation, yet we are allowed to demean, and insult personally and professionally our President on a daily basis, who earns less and is responsible for more? Yet express disgust when someone dares speak negatively of the city manager? Doesn’t add up to me. One is voted in, the other appointed. You should be able to criticize both without having been in either one’s shoes. Saying otherwise reeks of elitism… because that line of thinking places only the top percent of the one percent in the position of being able to say anything. Those who have done what she’s done. Well should we also not be able to criticize kings or dictators for that matter? I’m not saying she is bad, but let’s be logical about our philosophy here. If we pay taxes, we should get a say on all servants of the public whether company partners, CEOs, developer philanthropists or journalist friends of theirs like it or not. All of us.

        My commentary as a response to yours and Nick Lee’s. Her exact salary to me is besides the point. Performance, which I believe has been great, is always up for critique by the public. Yet let us not even bring up firefighter’s salaries or benefits in comparison who risk their lives for the public as a career and are compensated way less than either of the other two positions…and the firefighters union are the ones overreaching into taxpayer’s dollars by comparison…yeah right.

        • Richard, you made some good points, for sure, but you fall down on your “public say” assertion – to wit – the emotions and feelings of the voters can be notoriously wrong. No dependable. The city manager is accountable! She can be fired by those WE elect. That’s where our control comes in. Some positions should not be directly subject to the fickle nature of the electorate. Yes, we respect and need fire fighters. But this city should not be held hostage to their power plays and disingenuous referendum tactics. We have a representative democracy – and it is largely working. We should not be wanting a coliseum-style political process – where anything and everything is subjected at a moments notice to a thumbs up/down tyranny of passion referendum. This is a true dictatorship – of the ignorant! Not smart. We need to keep our system as it is – not dumb it down to threatening short term union-thug chiefs that always kill the goose. Some positions need long term thinkers, managers and visionaries who are protected from the hoi polloi-union leadership short term-power-seeking mentalies of “me first”. I don’t want San Antonio to be a northern-style corrupt union-influenced nightmare situation of a city beholden to union hacks who truly have no concern other than their own, in the end. Give them no power!! Vote NO on the amendments!!!

  7. The Rivard Report is an essential fact bearing news feed and shouts Be complimented for its highlighting of opposing factions.
    I will vote against the change to the charter amendments as I feel they will only serve to cause continued strife and dissent in the city.
    Vote no.

  8. The Rivard Report is an essential fact bearing news feed and shouts Be complimented for its highlighting of opposing factions.
    I will vote against the change to the charter amendments as I feel they will only serve to cause continued strife and dissent in the city.
    Vote no.

  9. Well, if you wait / throw more money to UTSA-DT, it will transform (finally) the long ignored Westside, future path for COSA. Best of Luck to accomplish- time will show if success. You think “gentrification” will accelerate? Anyway, petition signing voters, your going to reap sorrow upon Future of SA if those knuckle headed Charter Amendments are passed by Voters.

  10. Well said, Mr. Rivard. There are those who want to contribute to the betterment of society, and those who want only to help themselves and their immediate constituency, regardless of the impact it has on their community as a whole. Too often, it seems that labor union leaders fall into the second group.

  11. I see the firefighters city propositions as a David vs Goliath story. The city is legally obligated to the Evergreen Clause because a previous city council agreed to it and a contract was signed. The city manager and city council instead of honoring the agreement felt they could crush the firefighters in court and cancel the Evergreen Clause. They spent millions of taxpayers dollars and failed. I am voting YES for the f
    irefighters propositions. I am supporting David in this fight.

  12. No grammar trolling intended, but in paragraph 1: “. . . a stunning $200-plus-million-dollar transformation . . .”

    It’s either “$200-plus-million transformation” or “200-plus-million-dollar transformation.”

    “$” OR “dollar.” It’s either-or, not both-and.

    And thank you for bringing up the tough issues about Chris Steele’s antics.

  13. Can’t stand Steele or the Union, but on the other hand the City Council runs roughshod over up. A and B, no. C, yes. We need a way to wrest power back from those maniacs.

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