Voters Hit City Hall With a Split Decision While Taking Aim at City Manager

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City Manager Sheryl Sculley

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

San Antonio voters are a fickle bunch, easy to rile, hard to read, clearly unconvinced that City Manager Sheryl Sculley, whose smart management and leadership has saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars during 13 years of service here, was worth their vote of confidence.

Proposition B was approved by a 18-point margin, which in politics is beyond a landslide. I write this as the clock ticks toward Wednesday 1:45 a.m. with 100 percent of the votes finally counted.

Four successive mayors and City Councils found Sculley worth every penny of her pay. Voters, however, seemed driven by union-fueled resentment that a woman in power could actually earn a nationally competitive compensation package.

The same voters’ rejection of Proposition A, in contrast, offers a counterweight, with 54 percent favoring the authority of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council over Chris Steele, the dodgy backroom boss of the firefighters union. Decision-making in the city will remain in the hands of elected officials, not referendums driven by special interests employing out-of-town paid petitioners.

Voters were more equally divided on Proposition C, with a scant 1.5 percent more than half saying they are willing to trust a board of arbitrators to end the union’s four-year labor standoff rather than wait for the union to come to the collective bargaining table with City Hall’s team of negotiators. I sense litigation on the horizon.

Voters were mostly focused on Proposition B and placing a ceiling on future city manager pay while imposing an eight-year term limit on the job that is now applied to mayor and city council.

The police and fire unions have spent millions of dollars vilifying Sculley, and it has worked. Who among us could weather such character assassination waged over five years against one individual as the personification of City government?

I can only conclude that most voters simply do not understand that Sculley, more than any other individual, is the reason city government thrives in San Antonio, and why taxpayers have fared so well under her tenure.

Some will say Sculley has made an easy target, earning more than $500,000 in a good year, in a city with a disproportionate percentage of people working in low-wage jobs. Her annual bonuses, in my view, have made her more vulnerable. Proposition B might have been a closer call if Nirenberg and City Council had eliminated the bonus in their last consideration of her performance and pay. That action would have played well in the court of public opinion. Public servants who earn big bonuses are a lightning rod.

But the argument that Sculley was overpaid amid comparisons to the president’s salary is intentionally misleading. Presidents earn six-figure pensions for the rest of their lives, which typically total millions of dollars after they leave the White House. A number of local leaders, including the presidents of the University of Texas at San Antonio, the CEO of University Health System, and the CEO of CPS Energy, earn as much or more than Sculley. None seem to suffer so much as a letter to the editor.

Sculley was targeted by the unions, and unions can be very good at targeting people that get in their way. Sculley had the courage to stand up to the unions and declare their spiraling health care and pension benefits unsustainable as they threatened to exceed 66 percent of the City’s general budget. Mayor Julián Castro and City Council backed her in demanding more equitable collective bargaining agreements in 2014. Yet only Sculley has been attacked by the union for refusing to compromise her values.

So the voters have spoken, or at least they think they have. Many seemed confused, witness the high number of San Antonio voters who skipped over the three propositions. Between 20,000 and 26,000 voters chose to leave blank the individual propositions.

Voters will awaken to learn that Proposition B does not unseat Sculley, does not cut her compensation, does not strip her of administrative authority, and does not preclude City Council from extending her current contract, which expires at year’s end.

Sooner or later, however, Sculley is going to retire. Finding the best possible person to follow in her footsteps is going to be much harder with a capped salary and an eight-year term limit.

A future mayor and city council will likely settle for less, which would be a big step backward. San Antonio has settled for less for too many years, and only recently, has started to think bigger. San Antonio will grow by more than 1 million people in the next 25 years. Every challenge we face today will loom even larger. Do we want a second-string city manager in charge?

A few closing questions for the City’s firefighters who saw more than $1 million in union dues wasted on efforts to geld City Hall. What did you gain this election? Are you better off today than you were four years ago? Do you still trust Steele to lead you?

Many of us who pay close attention to public life in San Antonio do not trust Steele. We see a man better at setting political fires than putting out real ones. He is not a leader, as a series of tape recordings leaked by a firefighter demonstrated. He is deceptive, cunning, and volatile.

He has done nothing good for the people of San Antonio. What has he done for you lately?


43 thoughts on “Voters Hit City Hall With a Split Decision While Taking Aim at City Manager

  1. “Voters will awaken to learn that Proposition B does not unseat Sculley, does not cut her compensation, does not strip her of administrative authority, and does not preclude City Council from extending her current contract, which expires at year’s end.”

    You may be correct, although this voter was quite aware that the resolution has no effect on the current city manager. In a world where obfuscating language is normal for resolution statements, Resolution B was pretty clear.

    • Pretty clear about what, exactly? That 0.2% of its annual budget is too much to pay a CEO for an organization with 12,000 employees and 1.5 million shareholders? A CEO that has managed to keep its organization solvent with a AAA bond rating for nine straight years, including during a national recession? Please explain how the passage of this Prop makes us better, because I surely don’t see it.

      • Why does everyone keep referring to the city manager as a CEO? I dont understand.

        “CEO noun

        \ˌsē-(ˌ)ē-ˈō  \

        Definition of CEO 

        : the executive with the chief decision-making authority in an organization or business” manager

        “city managernoun

        Definition of city manager 

        : an official employed by an elected council to direct the administration of a city government”

        She’s not a CEO shes and appointed cival servant that MANAGES a city government along side the elected mayor. Not even the president of the United states earns that much for their civic duties. Oh, and no one other than the vote no propagandists said anything about prop b effecting Scully, if anyone cared to read the proposition it was very clear that it’s about protections against future city managers that could get a little too power hungry

    • Yes they are, as evidenced by the passing of those amendments.
      They didn’t understand them, were lied to by the union thugs (including Brockhouse), most didn’t read them (or can’t read), andjust did what they were told.

      • Union thugs? Get a life, dude. There’s no conspiracy, and certainly you shouldn’t be throwing stones when the GVN campaign was out there lying to people telling them that if Prop A passed the NDO would be repealed, which was a flat out lie.

        Brockhouse isn’t even a union member. How can he be a union thug?

        Are you a republican businessman, or just buying into their 2 million dollars worth of propaganda? Either way, it’s over. Deal with it.

  2. “Four successive mayors and City Councils found Sculley worth every penny of her pay. Voters, however, seemed driven by union-fueled resentment that a woman in power could actually earn a nationally competitive compensation package.”

    wow man, this is outlandish and tinged with bitterness. Nah, we just don’t think ANY city manager (Sheryl or not) is worth 600k, more than the president and governor combined.

    • Some of us just want to move away from city managers in general. This is a big city, not a small one. Why do we choose to rely so heavily on an unelected administrator?

  3. This opinion is condescending to the people of San Antonio. It implies that we were somehow duped. Trust the people of San Antonio to speak with their vote. Our first responders are exceptional and they deserve to have decent healthcare as they place their lives at risk everyday on the job.

    • Oh Rebecca…it looks like you were “duped.”

      The Proposition isn’t about decent healthcare. In fact, the City has always been willing to cover Firefighters at 100% of their healthcare costs (just like they did for Police Officers). Now, covering all their dependents at 100% may be a different story. But again, this wasn’t about supporting Firefighters, it was a Union power play. Suffice to say that you didn’t even know that you got duped.

      • the cushy pensions to firefighters will bankrupt the city just as it has in other cities across America. Firefighters do difficult work, but so do many other people in risky jobs and they don’t get big fat pensions that costs taxpayers millions and bankrupt cities.

    • Poor Rebecca. You should have read the proposed amendments. And if you didn’t understand them (which obviously you didn’t) you should have asked someone to explain.
      NONE of the three amendments had ANYTHING to do with decent healthcare for the firefighters, who by the way already get outstanding healthcare. As do their spouses, children, ex-spouses (Steele), etc.
      You blew it lady, no enjoy the consequences. It won’t be pretty.

  4. Regardless of the final outcome, Rivard is still bad mouthing union president Chris Steele.
    San Antonio is sick and tired of our corrupt, corporate owned city government. San Antonio is among the top two most impoverished cities in the nation, yet we are supposed to passively accept this? San Antonio public schools are a major example of defacto segregation as inner city students are denied equal education. Are we supposed to be content with this?

    • Pancho, great point in regards to what is really happening in the inner city. Much work to do. The hard work I see with the Hispanic Chamber and other organizations and indivivuals that are not part of the city public stream needs to be talked about. A great hands on man like Tommy Adkisson that has been in City government is an example of a roll up your sleeves individual and grass roots who would have been a great Mayor for us in the past.

    • Again with this nonsense Pancho. Man you are living in the past, and it ain’t pretty.
      So allow me to step in for Rivard and I’ll bad mouth Steele:
      he is a corrupt union thug who is only interested in his own agenda and a power grab. He is a liar – he even admits it.
      He is deceptive.
      He does not serve his constituents but uses them.
      I don’t trust him, and God only knows what he is going to pull next.
      Thanks for the article Bob – excellent as always, and keep an eye on him. And you might want to keep an eye on this Pancho character as well. He clearly is not to be trusted.

      • Carl J, while you are entitled to your opinions you are wrong in continuing the character attacks of Mr. Steele. The union members as a whole voted to pursue the support of the Props. NOT Steele. And being that he is the President of the Association he was the mouthpiece that carried the members message. We weren’t duped as you say, we weren’t lied to, we knew exactly what he was pursuing for the benefit of the members. The character assasination put forth by the biased Rivard Report, elected officials, and general public only served to discredit the Union and it’s President. Maybe you should inform yourself before spewing your hatred for an individual or an organization that you don’t even know.

        • this is exactly why republicans try to get rid of unions, they ruin it by demanding pay, benefits and pensions that are too much for any state, city or organization to pay. Unions discredit unions, not anyone else. Its remarkable that Brockhouse supported this, as he touts efficiency of government. Prop C will lead to results of large $$ to the union that will not be good for the city, and it will lead to higher taxes and more poverty in SA.

          • You do know, or maybe you don’t, that this city is run by democrats, not republicans. It is the democrats that run the city that you and Mr. Steele are arguing with over these issues. Our city leadership has imposed the policies you disagree with and awarded the city manager the contract you don’t like. If you are going to spew hate, which is your right, at least direct it at the right party!

  5. Wow, are you a reporter or do you work for Sculley. You don’t want anyone saying anything negative about someone who hides money and threatens public figures and employees with losing there job if they don’t agree. You are so focused on tearing down Steele. Maybe you need to think about the fake and biased news you are pushing.

    • Think these same thoughts 10 years from now, when Public Safety budget siphons tax dollars away from budget items a GROWING city needs.

  6. Such patronizing commentary. The high level of split voting on the propositions shows that San Antonians read the fine print. San Antonio just does not like the constant circling of the wagons and ridiculously high wages for middling administrator Sheryl Sculley. When will you and the rest of the city elites learn that?

  7. San Antonio has spoken with yes on Proposition B. The question is why did San Antonio vote yes.

    Let’s try and answer the why and move forward.

    • Because they do not feel she is worth over $500,000. Because San Antonio has been a cheap labor town for decades and the citizens feel it is disrespectful to our citizens to be paying her so much. The disparity moved voters.

  8. I am very disappointed with Charter Amendment turn out, and with COSA voters. Best to renew current City Manager contract, let the current ever green Fire Union contract run (litigate, if necessary) and start anew- Bexar Co Fire Department!! Now, does this 3 party arbitration apply to our Current COSA/Fire Union impasse?

  9. Continuing to speak bad of the firefighters union leader and a black man did not get the vote no campaign anywhere and will not get the Robert Rivard any points with many. Looks like all the lies and fear-mongering, disinformation tactics by your publication and the no campaign fail too.

    The mayor and the city council should start listening to the voters. Extending her contract will only create more anger with voters. If they do extend Scully’s contract they will have to deal with voters at the polls. Not even this publication will be able to safe the mayor and the city council.

    San Antonio will be fine with a $300,000 a year city manager. I am certain there will be no shortage of advice for the new city manager by the city hall insiders.

  10. What I have taken from this article and the general tone of the debate concerning the three proposition (especially amendment Scully) is a deep distrust of the judgment of the voters by the mayor, RR (way more often than not a voice for developers than citizens) and chamber of commerce etc. The mayor states that progress is not always a straight line in reference to voter outcome (gee thanks… you can at least pretend you trust our judgment) and the RR and all others city stakeholders constantly say they have gotten their money’s worth and how Scully has proven her value over and over again.
    Clearly, she has not proven her worth to the citizens of this city. So, instead of decrying the decision of voters, why not ask WHY they voted this way and WHAT the citizens need in a city manager than they are not getting…… and readjust to include these qualities when hiring a city manager.

    I might add that, with a lower salary (or you can raise city workers salaries???) you might find someone local (this is alleviates a lot of the average citizen’s concerns I suspect…it really matters to us), and who is willing to serve the city with humility not seen in a while. Qualified…absolutely. I myself am a highly qualified person who works for very little….. Many of us average citizens are in this situation (our bosses do not care to change this) and that is why we can expect this of our local government workers. If Sculley is the valued person you say, I would expect her to resign or willingly take a pay cut in response to this vote. If not, well you see what I mean.

  11. There are a vocal minority of politically inclined people who look at the potential power and patronage that lie in a strong mayor form of government and ignore the pitfalls. This is the first shot in their battle to change the charter to do away with a council-manager form of government, which has led to a well-run city and generally civil politics, and lead us down the chaotic path most major american cities deal with.

  12. Like many, i akso am saddened by the limitations placed on our city’s future with these propositions. I feel that those who voted in favor were deliberayely migpsguided for political reasons and ambitions.
    You have a union boss who is seething from not being able to get all he wants and a council member who cant stand being ignored and outvoted by the the ithers. Both are miserable individuals that will be found out for what tyey are.
    The next referendoms will be by the people and will correct these mistakes by giving the right to govern back to elected officials.

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