San Antonio City Manager Cheryl Sculley observes a presentation from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.. Photo by Scott Ball.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley observes the CVB annual meeting before accepting the Robert H .H. Hugman Award. Photo by Scott Ball.

The contract standoff between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association appears to be entering a new phase with release of a police union poll that takes aim at City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s compensation package and an expected contract renewal by City Council some time in the coming weeks or months. The union attacks on Sculley are hardly new, but efforts are being intensified to trigger public and City Council challenges to her compensation as her contract renewal is considered.

Word of the poll began circulating several days ago at City Hall. Police union representatives released the poll questions Friday afternoon to the Rivard Report. The total number of respondents, margin of error and responses to individual questions were not immediately available. The results of questions that tested Mayor Ivy Taylor’s standing with likely voters also were not addressed in the press release. Asked why, police union spokesman Greg Brockhouse said the numbers show Mayor Taylor’s standing in the community is strong and she is not central to the union efforts to focus attention on the city manager’s compensation package and her contract.

“Mayor Taylor isn’t really the focus of the poll,” Brockhouse said. “We did want to research her standing in relation to the city manager’s standing. Our entire problem in this scenario is the city manager. At some point you have to step back and ask: ‘Who is overpaid and has the rich benefits package?’ She makes more than the top 100 city managers in the nation, and she has stated that perpetual contracts are bad for city business. She has a perpetual contract.”

Although Sculley has a substantial severance package built into her contract, the city manager is an at-will employee who could be dismissed by City Council at any time.

“There is simply no comparison between their contracts, and I guarantee you if the union contracts could be canceled at any time like the city manager’s can be canceled at any time, the union would be at the table working hard to negotiate a new contract,” said Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of government and public affairs. “The fact is their contract has that 10-year evergreen clause and taxpayers are on the hook, whether any of us like it or not.”

The poll was commissioned by SAPOA. The firefighters union, which has not come to the negotiating table since the two union contracts expired Sept. 30, 2014, was not involved.

The press release cited three findings that union officials say are contained in the poll results:

  • 79.5% of respondents said Sculley should not receive a pay raise.
  • Only 33.7% believe Sculley should keep her job.
  • By a 2-1 margin, respondents believe the city manager rather than the mayor “runs the City.”

Click here to read the 11-question survey. Click here to read the accompanying police union press release.

The results show the police union believes a focus on Sculley and her contract is a more productive way to defend their contract demands rather than bargaining at the negotiating table. The two sides have not met since September. Supporters of Sculley are sure to question the poll results. Sculley enjoys a high level of support in the business community, and surveys done by the City show taxpayers support her focus on the rich benefits package police and firefighters receive, including premium-free insurance coverage, low copays, and far fewer out-of-pocket expenses than their civilian counterparts.

The City’s 2014 Community Survey showed 70% of respondents agreed police and firefighters should contribute to their healthcare costs like the City’s civilian employee do and pay monthly premiums for themselves and their dependents.

“This is more of the same from the union – wasting time and money on personal attacks, rather than negotiating a contract that taxpayers can afford,” said Coyle. “They need to come back to the bargaining table. We don’t need a union poll to know where the community stands on the police contract. Every single day, people write, call or stop the City Manager on the street encouraging her to keep fighting the good fight and right this 25-year wrong.”

In the poll, respondents are asked if they are likely or unlikely to vote in the May 2017 municipal elections, and then asked in follow-up questions if they have favorable or unfavorable views of Taylor and Sculley, individually, and their respective performances as mayor and city manager. Respondents are asked if they would re-elect Taylor if the election were held today, and if they would support retaining Sculley “if a decision was needed today.”

After asking the initial seven questions, the poll then states, “Cities generally have two forms of government, called strong mayor and weak mayor. The city of San Antonio has a weak mayor system, where most of the important citywide decisions are made by the City Council. Day to day operations of the City are the responsibility of the City Manager, who is appointed by the Mayor and City Council. In the city of San Antonio, and this system, who do you currently believe has the most influence?”

People could answer the mayor, the city manager, a council member, or that they were unsure.

“We’ve said from the beginning that Sheryl Sculley runs the City, not our elected officials,” stated SAPOA President Mike Helle in the press release. “It’s time for that to change and it starts with holding Sheryl Sculley accountable to the people and to the City Council who represents them.”

San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle and lRon DeLord, the police union's lead negotiator (right) during the contract negotiations on Tuesday, March 31. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle (center) and Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator (right) during the contract negotiations on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

Question Eight asks respondents to weigh in on Sculley’s annual compensation, which is nearly $500,000 with insurance and miscellaneous allowances: “City Manager Sheryl Scully currently receives an average salary of $42,000 dollars per month. Do you support giving Sheryl Sculley a salary raise? 1. Press one for yes 2. Press two for no 3. Press three if you are unsure.”

Sculley’s contract expired at the end of 2015, but addressing it has not been a particularly pressing issue with City Council. Mayor Taylor has indicated she is conferring with others on Council and will include a performance review of Sculley as part of the contract review process. Sculley has held the job since 2005 when she was hired during the first term of Mayor Phil Hardberger. Her fiscal leadership has led the City to win AAA bond ratings from all three major rating agencies, making San Antonio the only U.S. city with a population of more than one million people to hold the highest of credit ratings. She also has been praised  for assembling a strong leadership team inside City Hall and to lead the police and fire departments. Hardberger and former Mayor Julián Castro both said during their terms in office that Sculley is the top city manager in the country.

Sculley became the target of union opposition as the Sept. 30, 2014 expiration date for the five-year contracts for the police and fire unions neared. She had been outspoken before City Council on the subject of fast-rising health care costs in the police and firefighter unions’ contracts, citing those costs as a threat to the stability of the general budget and the city’s credit rating. Union-management negotiations are drawn out, adversarial processes anywhere, but since the beginning, union officials have seen Sculley rather than the mayor or council members as a personal threat to protecting their benefits package and power. That was amplified with the 2014 hiring of Ron DeLord as the union’s lead negotiator. DeLord is a Georgetown attorney and nationally-known law enforcement union advocate who authored what many consider the Bible for police collective bargaining talks, “Police Union Power, Politics, and Confrontation in 21st Century.”

It’s all but forgotten now, but in August 2013, nearly a year before leaving office for a Cabinet position in the Obama administration, Castro appointed a Mayor’s Health Care and Pension Benefits Task Force to review police and firefighter compensation and benefits compared to their counterparts in other Texas and U.S. cities. That report was accepted unanimously by Council as collective bargaining talks got underway and both sides agreed to negotiate a new contract by June 2014. Sculley was directed by Council to hold public safety spending at no more than 66% of the general budget, a guideline that remains in effect. Talks sputtered almost from the outset, with negotiating sessions interrupted by long periods without any meetings. Talks have been at an undeclared impasse for months, and a pending City lawsuit challenging the unions’ so-called evergreen clauses, which keep certain pay increases and benefits in effect for 10 years after contracts expire, is likely to keep the two sides from returning to the table.

Mayor Ivy Taylor announces the City's plan to move forward with its lawsuit against the police union contract's evergreen clause on Oct. 1, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Mayor Ivy Taylor announces the City’s plan to move forward with its lawsuit against the police union contract’s evergreen clause on Oct. 1, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Late last year, City staff was asked by City Council to revisit the task force’s work comparing police and firefighter total compensation around the state. That report was delivered to Mayor Taylor and Council with little media coverage three days before Christmas. City staff say the updated report shows San Antonio’s uniformed personnel are still among the best compensated in the state. Click here to read that report.

“It is a tough political environment and Sheryl has a job to do and we respect that, but we don’t think the community thinks the things she says about other city contracts apply to her own contract,” Brockhouse said. “She is grossly overcompensated compared to the rest of the community. People will say Doyle Beneby and Robert Puente make more, but citing two other grossly overpaid public servants is not a good excuse. These are tax dollars we are talking about.”

Sculley is among the highly compensated public officials in San Antonio, but she is not at or even near the top of the list.  Doyle Beneby, the recently departed CEO at CPS Energy, earned $739,00 in his final year on the job before returning to the private sector. Trustees are said to be negotiating with his potential successor who is asking for an even higher compensation package. Robert Puente, the CEO and President of SAWS, makes $411,000. Sculley, who earned $486,640 in 2015, would not be among the Top 10 earners at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), where some medical specialists and top administrators earn salaries ranging from $500,000 to $1 million a year. The public and the media pay far less attention to those individuals because their work is less visible and apolitical. Like their counterparts at City Hall or the public utilities, the top people at the UTHSCSA tend to be paid nationally competitive salaries comparable to their peer groups in other U.S. cities.

Dr. Syed Adil Husain, a cardiothoracic surgeon here, earns $1 million a year. Michael Black, the chief operating officer at UTHSCSA, is paid $750,720. Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Scarano, a medical school dean, also earns $750,480. Dr. Glenn Halff, director of transplant services at the UT-Health Sciences center makes $732,640. Dr. David Jimenez, chair of neurosurgery, earns $730,000. Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, the former head of UTHSC, earns $700,000 as a transplant surgeon and professor. Dr. William Henrich, president of UTHSC, earns $701,043. George Hernández, CEO of UTHSCSA, earns $686,000. Dr. John Calhoon, professor and chair of the cardiothoracic surgery, earns $566,500. A large group of physician professors earn between $250,000-400,000.

Still, Sculley’s compensation remains a lightning rod with the police union and their supporters, who now will try to convince City Council to challenge that compensation as a new contract is discussed. So far, Council has remained firmly in support of Sculley as negotiations with the police union stretch on.

“The community is 80% against giving the city manager a raise,” Brockhouse said, citing the union’s unreleased poll results. “This is information, if I am sitting on the City Council, I’m wondering how my district, my neighborhoods feel about this?”

“It’s a divide and conquer strategy,” Coyle said, “It hasn’t worked before, and City Council remains united in its support of the city manager and the goal of keeping public safety spending at 66% of the general fund.”

*Top image: City Manager Sheryl Sculley observes the annual CVB meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.  

Related Stories:

Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard Report archive.

City Files Notice of Appeal on Police Union Lawsuit

Gonzales Calls on City to Drop Evergreen Lawsuit

Police Union: Drop Lawsuit or Negotiations are Dead

Bossy, Bitchy, Bully: Union Targets City Manager With the B-Words

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.