San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley looks back at battles won, lost over 13-year career

SAN ANTONIO – KSAT’s Myra Arthur talked one-on-one with San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, a day after she announced her retirement.

Her announcement after 13 years as the city’s chief executive comes on the heels of years of tension between the city and the police and fire unions over their contracts.

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley announces retirement

Sculley became their prime target. Then voters approved new constraints for the city manager position.

Asked whether the very public hurdles influenced her decision to retire, she said not really.

“I warned the council (that) this is going to be very difficult, but it’s something we need to do or it will bankrupt the city,” Sculley said. “Not during my tenure, but I felt like that was a financial legacy I couldn't ignore.”

After announcement, Sculley looks back on police, fire union battle

Sculley will close out her career as San Antonio city manager having been in the cross hairs of the police and fire unions, thanks to those very public battles between the unions and the city over how much police officers and firefighters should pay for benefits. 

Sculley’s leadership — and her pay — were scrutinized by union leaders and in attack ads.

She said despite the very personal attacks against her, she’d had a lot of support, as well.

“This is a very difficult job,” she said. “And perhaps we need to do a better job explaining ‘What is the role of city manager?’ I function as the chief executive officer of an organization that has a nearly $3 billion budget and 13,000 employees.”

In early November, San Antonio voters passed Proposition B, putting a salary cap and term limits on Sculley’s successor. That idea was part of a campaign created by the fire union. 

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“I do worry about it because that dollar amount — that $300,000 — is what I was offered to come to San Antonio in 2005 13 years ago,” she said. “And the average salaries of city managers at this level of large cities is much greater than that. And you get what you pay for.”

Sculley said she is proud the city was able to reach a deal with the police union in 2016 that, for the first time, requires officers to pay for some of their benefits. The fire union and the city still have not negotiated.

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The city sued the fire union under Sculley’s leadership, but dropped that suit Thursday. 

Sculley says she may write a book

In her retirement, Sculley says she may write a book for other city managers on what she’s learned in the battles between the city and the police and fire unions. Those fights over benefits and contracts have been a constant for Sculley in the years that will be her last as city manager.

She said she’ll remember much more than just the clashes with the unions when she looks back at her time leading San Antonio.

And she has no regrets. 

“With 1.5 million people in San Antonio, not everyone is going to agree with the boss,” she said. “I get that.

She did say it would be hard to pick an accomplishment she’s most proud of as a city manager. Passing $2 billion in bond programs and earning the city’s first triple-A bond rating — then maintaining that — are among them.

“I would say the talent that we’ve organized in the organization is top-notch,” she added. “The best in the country. I’m very proud of that and we have very capable individuals who can succeed me here within in the organization.”

She also touted the equity policies the city has put in place under her leadership.

“What areas of the community and what populations are not being served as well as other areas that more affluent in the community?” she said. “And how do we devote resources, time and attention to those areas? (Those policies are) one of my proudest accomplishments.”

What’s next…

Retirement for Sculley may not mean no longer working. She said she already has other opportunities — including in the private sector — but won’t be making any decisions yet.

She said as for her legacy with the city, she’s proud of the fact that city leadership served the residents of the community better than every before.

“We raised the professionalism of city staff and we managed (the community’s) finances well,” she said. 

Sculley said she hopes to get a new contract with the fire union nailed down before she retires. 

She said she hopes to leave the city by June.

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