All six of retiring City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s deputy and assistant city managers – along with two out-of-town candidates – made it to the first round of interviews to become the next city manager, City officials said Friday.

Local deputies Erik Walsh and Peter Zanoni as well as assistants Lori HoustonCarlos ContrerasMaria Villagomez, and Rod Sanchez all made the cut. Dallas Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry and former Las Vegas Deputy City Manager Orlando Sanchez also made the short list. 

The candidate’s applications, including resumes and cover letters, are available to download on the City’s website here.

City Council members and Mayor Ron Nirenberg held a two-hour private Council meeting to choose who to interview. The first round of interviews will start Monday at the Henry B. González Convention Center and is expected to be completed Tuesday evening.

Newly appointed interim Councilman Art Hall currently is not able to participate in City business until Jan. 20, but Nirenberg said he hopes to change that with an action at the beginning of Monday’s Council meeting because he wants District 2 to have a voice in the selection process.

City staff and attorneys narrowed the initial field of 31 to 12 who met the minimum experience requirements for the position, Nirenberg said.

“There is a very diverse group of candidates that have applied – nationwide, even internationally – for the city manager position,” he said. “We know it’s a high-profile and highly-attractive position within the industry so it’s no surprise that we’ve got qualified candidates internally and externally.”

Al-Ghafry has worked in city government for more than 28 years, according to his City of Dallas online profile. He previously worked for the City of El Cajon, California, and was the City of San Antonio’s director of Public Works Department. That department was later absorbed by Transportation and Capital Improvements.

Orlando Sanchez started his career with the City of Las Vegas as a management analyst more than 30 years ago and became deputy manager in 2006, according to his resume. He retired from the city in August 2018. He has applied for city manager jobs in other cities, including Scottsdale, Arizona, and Henderson, Nevada, in 2016 and 2017, media reports said.

Nirenberg said he wants to have the list whittled down to two or three candidates by Wednesday and a finalist by the end of the day. That person will participate in a public symposium on Jan. 23, though the details of the event are still pending.

Sculley, who has been city manager for 13 years, announced her retirement in late November. She will stay until no later than June 30 to assist in the transition to a new city manager.

“The search was conducted according to all best practices, including proactively, and we feel like we have a good pool of candidates to select from,” Nirenberg said. “No surprise to anyone who’s been observing this process or the city over the last several years, the internal pool of applicants from the City faired quite well and competitively with the applications overall.”

Sculley’s salary and other compensation has been controversial for years, but that came to a head in early November when voters approved a city charter amendment limits that the term of future city managers to eight years and the annual compensation for the position to 10 times that of the lowest-paid City employee (roughly $312,000).

As the top executive of the City, Sculley its highest-paid employee, earning a base salary of $450,000 in 2017 and $475,000 in 2018. In 2016, she earned close to $590,000, with a base pay of $425,000 and other compensation. She turned down a performance bonus for 2018 that could added as much as $100,000 to her base salary.

Her two deputies, Walsh and Zanoni, already earn more than $300,000 after base pay, leave payouts, and other benefits.

The City will work “within the spirit” of the new salary confines when it hires the next city manager, Nirenberg said, but the details of the contract will be negotiated.

There will likely be an element of incentive pay, he said, “so that if the next professional … [doesn’t] meet certain performance standards, they wouldn’t get paid to the full extent of their … pay scale.”

The next city manager will inherit a number of tough projects, chief among them getting a new labor deal negotiated with the firefighters union, which launched the city charter amendments that targeted City Hall operations, Sculley’s compensation, and the fire union contract. Two of the three propositions were approved by voters, including one that allows for binding arbitration on a labor deal.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who has worked for the police and fire unions and is expected to run for mayor, has declined to attend deliberation sessions on the city manager candidates.

He hasn’t attended executive sessions for months, he said, because he disagrees with what discussions are kept private.

“The deliberations in executive session have made me uncomfortable from the beginning and I prefer to do it all in front of the public,” Brockhouse said. “There are items that do warrant executive privilege, but most don’t. The Council and City Attorney felt otherwise and they continue with their process. I respect their choice. I am briefed as needed on all executive material and am aware of all facts to make decisions on my votes.”

The candidate interviews will be conducted in private sessions, and Brockhouse will attend those, as no decisions are made during them. However, Brockhouse said they should be public.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...