SA could have tough time finding next city manager if charter amendment passes, expert says

Ballot measure would put term limit, salary cap on job

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SAN ANTONIO – If San Antonio voters approve a charter amendment putting salary and term limit caps on the city manager, hiring the next person for that job would likely be challenging, one expert said.

Voters will see three proposed charter amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Proposition B specifically addresses the city manager. It would prevent a city manager from serving longer than eight years. It would also limit the position's compensation to no more than 10 times the annual salary of the city's lowest paid full-time employee. The city's Fiscal Year 2019 pay plan ranges lists the lowest salary at $29,936.40.

"The amendment devalues the position. It would affect the ability to attract the proper person (for the job)," said Marc Ott, executive director of the International City/County Management Association. Ott previously worked as the city manager of Austin.

San Antonio's city manager is responsible for all 12,000 city employees, overseeing city services and managing the budget, which is $2.8 billion for Fiscal Year 2018. The city's population is 1,511,946.

An accounting of San Antonio's top paid employees in 2017 obtained by KSAT 12 shows the current city manager, Sheryl Sculley, earned a base salary of $450,000. Other benefits increased her total compensation to $621,676.64.

The Texas City Management Association conducted a salary survey of city managers for 2017-18. Only four city managers earn more than the charter amendment's proposed salary cap.

  • Dallas: The city manager earns $375,000. The city's budget for FY 2018 is $3.6 billion. It has a population of 1,317,929.
  • Fort Worth: The city manager earns $327,600. The city's budget for FY 2018 is $731 million. It has a population of 854,113.
  • Bryan: The city manager earns $300,000. The city's budget for FY 2018 is $405 million. It has a population of 85,613.
  • Arlington: The city manager earns $298,000. The city's budget for FY 2018 is $255.2 million. It has a population of 392,772.

"It's not easy work. That's complex work," Ott said. "It requires mature, executive management ability."

Sculley was the city manager in Phoenix, when she was hired in 2005 for the job in San Antonio. Her biography says she has more than 30 years of executive management experience

"San Antonio has a very distinguished, positive reputation as a city and as a council-manager city. (Under current circumstances) it would be a coveted opportunity. Jobs like that attract a manager from a large municipal environment," Ott said.



The council-manager form of government is the most common set-up in the United States. While the elected council members set goals, projects, budget and tax rates, it is the city manager's job to carry out all of that.


Ott said it's the form of government that has worked well for decades, primarily because of the knowledge of city managers. 

"You have the same city manager in place for a very long time. The city manager is an at-will employee and can stay as long as the council is satisfied with his or her service," Ott said.

If Proposition B is approved, the next city manager would need a supermajority vote to approve his or her hiring.

While proponents have criticized Sculley's salary (often noting that she earns more than the President of the United States and the governor of Texas), Ott said people don't turn to public service for the paycheck.

In the case of a city manager, the acumen to lead comes at a price.

"Salary is not relevant for someone who is providing leadership to one of the largest municipalities in the country. Compensation should recognize that," Ott said. "It's not an easy job at all. It's a commitment to public service."

The amendment would not impact Sculley's current contract.

"Sculley is one of the highest regarded city managers in our business. It's very likely (that) cities would be interested (in hiring her)," Ott said.