After City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday promoting him, Erik Walsh will take over as San Antonio’s city manager on March 1.
Walsh, who had been the city’s deputy city manager under Sheryl Sculley, will lead more than 12,000 employees in the nation’s seventh-largest city.
“I’m excited, humbled and honored to be city manager,” he said. “It’s a career opportunity to me professionally and, personally, a career achievement. It’s also personal, because San Antonio is home.”
Upon taking the reins from Sculley, who is retiring after 13 years in the job, Walsh will work with an initial base salary of $312,000. His term as city manager is capped at eight years, as required by last November’s special City charter amendment election.
Walsh was accompanied by several members of his family in Council chambers Thursday. He stood for more than one hour at the podium as Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Sculley, and each Council member remarked on Walsh’s ascension.
Having started with the City in 1994, Walsh, a native San Antonian, was promoted to assistant city manager in 2006 and to deputy city manager in 2011. He was among the six City government executives who both applied for the city managerial position and advanced to a round of interviews with the Council.
Walsh then became a semifinalist for the position along with Assistant City Manager Maria Villagomez.
Walsh told the Council on Thursday that applying for city manager was a chance he could not pass up. He becomes only San Antonio’s 20th city manager in its long history as an incorporated city.
Nirenberg called the vote “a weighty moment” for the City government and in the community’s history.
“Appointing a city manager is the most important task that a City Council can make,” he said. “It doesn’t happen often and it hasn’t happened in the last 13 years.”
Nirenberg said he was convinced Walsh has the skills, experience, fortitude and institutional knowledge to succeed Sculley.
“He is a consummate professional with a cool, calm demeanor,” Nirenberg said. “He has a total command of municipal issues.”
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said Walsh takes his cues from Sculley as being tough, blunt and fearless when it comes to tackling challenging City government issues.
“I know if we go into battle and need difficult things done, you’re going to do it,” he added.
Sculley said recruitment and retention of quality, skilled, experienced City employees has always been among her chief priorities as city manager. She referred to Walsh’s time at Trinity University, where he was an offensive lineman with the football team.
As such, Sculley said Walsh performed well in “protecting my blind side” over the last several years as an assistant, then deputy, city manager.
“And like every good offensive lineman, Erik is smart, quick on his feet, reads the field well, protects the quarterback from what she can’t see coming, and protects her blind side,” Sculley said. “Today I am very confident in Erik’s ability to serve as quarterback of the City’s leadership team and will carry the City onto many victories.”
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) recalled two instances in which Walsh acted decisively in challenging situations. One was the day of the December 2014 fatal fire at the Wedgwood apartments, when Walsh called Treviño to deliver the news. Another instance was when a tornado hit parts of San Antonio in February 2017, including Trevino’s district. Walsh called Treviño, first asking if he and his family were OK and safe.
Those incidents, Treviño said, helped demonstrate that Walsh was part of a well-run, responsive city government.
“That comes expected, but that comes from a lot of hard work,” Trevino said. “That comes from someone who has built up respect, command, leadership.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) acknowledged that she has concerns about whether Walsh fully understands the challenges, such as equity, that residents in her Westside districts face. But Gonzales said Walsh’s attempts to be honest and straightforward in recent community meetings, and support from his family, helped to convince her he was worth promoting to the top job.
In a press conference later, Walsh joked about there being no honeymoon period with his job. That was after a reporter alerted him to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association’s announcement that it was ready to start negotiations on a new contract.
Walsh said he and the City are eager to rejoin collective bargaining negotiations as long as the process and outcome are balanced.
“We all need to be fair to the employees, fair to the firefighters, fair to the City, fair to the taxpayers,” he said. “There’s a balance there, and I think we should approach it with a balanced perspective.”