Sheryl Sculley has been the city manager of San Antonio for 12 years.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg finalized job performance metrics this week that will be used to measure City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s work in 2018. For the first time in her 12-year tenure, formal metrics will be used to quantify her performance and determine her annual bonus.

Nirenberg outlined the new metrics – developed by his office, Council members, and the city manager, – in a memo sent to City Council and executive staff on Tuesday. The scoring rubric includes “performance measures” and “special initiatives” that each Council member and the mayor will use at the end of the year to assess Sculley’s work.

The City will hire a third-party consultant to set up performance metrics and salary reviews for the city manager, city clerk, and city auditor – all employees appointed by Council – in 2019. A firm is expected to be selected in May. Sculley’s contract expires this year on Dec. 31, and renewal depends on her interest and a vote by City Council.

“I’m a strong believer in performance metrics and welcome the review,” Sculley told the Rivard Report on Friday. “My city executives that manage our city departments have performance metrics upon which they are evaluated. We strive to add value and exceed community expectations.”

Sculley is eligible for a $100,000 bonus, which she would receive in addition to her base salary of $475,000 and other compensation. She received a $75,000 bonus for her work in 2017, as most Council members and the mayor praised her.

“Sheryl Sculley is a consummate professional and notably so at the national level,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report on Thursday, referencing Sculley’s recent recognition as “Administrator of the Year” by the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business. “We’re in an enviable position when it comes to the strength and quality of our management team.”

Previously, the city manager’s performance was reviewed more informally; the mayor would have conversations with each Council member, staff, and the employee. Written reviews are the preferred method by the International City/County Management Association, but oral reviews are not uncommon across the nation.

The baseline performance measures for 2018 are: professional skills, organizational staffing, relations with City Council, fiscal management, community relations, ethics/individual characteristics, and crisis/disaster response.

The so-called “special initiatives” for the year are specific management tasks associated with projects, developments, and issues including the fire union lawsuit, Housing Policy Task Force report implementation, climate action plan, smart cities initiative, transitioning city departments into the old Frost Bank tower, succession planning, and other items.

That doesn’t mean she’s 100 percent responsible for outcomes, Nirenberg said, as some results depend on external entities – especially when it comes to the fire union’s contentious contract negotiations, or lack of them.

“The outcome is dependent on the two sides and their negotiating teams,” he said. “We can’t hold her accountable to resolving it, but we can certainly hold her to preparing ourselves” for the negotiation and lawsuit.

The City has invited the fire union to the negotiating table about a dozen times since before the contract expired in September 2014, including twice in March when fire union officials refused to appear at meetings the City hosted. San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele has been adamant that the union won’t negotiate until the city drops its Council-approved appeal, which is pending in the Texas Supreme Court, challenging the contract’s “evergreen” clause that keeps contractual terms in place for 10 years if a new agreement isn’t reached.

At the end of the year, each Council member and the mayor will score Sculley’s work as “unsatisfactory,” “needs improvement,” “meets standards,” “exceeds standards,” or “outstanding.” Each assessment will be averaged and then combined to determine her total score – a maximum of 140 points.

The bonus will be determined by “adding the Combined Ratings of all 11 Council members … and dividing by 11,” according to Nirenberg’s memo. “If appropriate, the Mayor may elect to omit the highest and lowest ratings to estimate a more accurate average of Council scores.”

Sculley will receive no bonus if her average score from Council members is 84 or below. Starting at 85 points, the bonus starts to step up from $10,000. Every additional two points is worth $3,500 up to 137, where the maximum bonus lies at $100,000.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley's bonus will be based on a scoring matrix filled out by each Council member and the mayor.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s bonus will be based on a scoring matrix filled out by each Council member and the mayor. Credit: Courtesy

Click here to download the memo Nirenberg sent containing the performance metrics.

“It’s better than nothing,” said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), a longtime critic of Sculley who called for more formalized review metrics earlier this year. “That’s not a sterling endorsement. … The problem with [the new metrics] is it’s really not performance expectation metric, it’s a bonus-awarding metric.”

City managers shouldn’t receive bonuses, Brockhouse said.

“Doing your basics doesn’t warrant a bonus to me,” he said. “So I have to intentionally rate her lower to avoid giving her a bonus.”

He also criticized the process by which the metrics were established: in private executive sessions.

City leaders often cite the “you get what you pay for” competitive market for city managers across the nation as justification for higher salaries and bonuses. It’s a highly-skilled position that typically takes years of experience in lower city government offices to achieve.

“She’s got a level of experience,” Brockhouse said, “but we can find excellent men and women to do that job and probably at a much lower pay rate.”

The city manager acts as chief operating officer of the City, overseeing daily activities of 12,000 employees and a $2.7 billion budget. Compared to other top executives of public entities such as CPS Energy, SAWS, and Bexar County Hospital District, the city manager oversees a far larger number of employees and more public dollars. Sculley has brought the city’s bond rating up to Triple-A status – making San Antonio the only major city in the country to hold such a rating, drastically increased public spending on critical infrastructure through bond programs, and oversaw a complete overhaul of day-to-day efficiencies in various departments since she was hired by former Mayor Phil Hardberger 12 years ago.

The city manager position has become a more politicized position in recent years because of the fire union’s campaign against Sculley. More recently, it was her executive decision to order a compromise between residents and a developer seeking to build apartments in the gentrifying Eastside that caught the ire of critics.

“She’s a tough and educated and ready leader,” Brockhouse said. “She’s a professional 100 percent, through and through. … It’s just time for a change.”

Asked if having set metrics in place could help quiet complaints about Sculley’s performance, Nirenberg said, “This is about making sure that it doesn’t [get politicized].”

Brockhouse isn’t the first Council member to call for performance reviews. In 2016, when Sculley’s current contract came before City Council, three Council members voted against it because of a lack of metrics tied to the city manager’s bonus. Two of them no longer represent districts 6 and 7 on the dais, but Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) is serving her third term.

Former Mayor Ivy Taylor established some metrics for Sculley’s bonus in 2016, but those were not applied to her overall performance and were not carried over into 2017.

Council members’ reviews of the city manager’s performance are due by Dec. 1, Nirenberg wrote in his memo. “The final evaluation, scoring and decisions regarding pay will be made by the entire City Council, prior to December 31.”

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...