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Sheryl Sculley, former city manager of San Antonio, took that job back in 2005, and her book “Greedy Bastards”, published in 2020, is a description of her efforts to put the city on firm financial footing and deliver services in an effective and efficient way. While the book’s events are specific to San Antonio, the story “isn’t really about a single city; it’s about Any City USA,” Sculley writes in her introduction.  

Sculley is a strong advocate for professional management in municipal government and writes “These are the best-run cities in the world and function using business-like practices, but with the welcome addition of open meetings, transparency, and lots of public input.”

The book is full of illuminating anecdotes and though the prescriptions she used in San Antonio might not apply in other communities, her approaches to reconfiguring the city have many general applications.  

Prior to taking the job in San Antonio, Sculley was assistant city manager of the famously well-managed city of Phoenix, and “as one of the better-known women in my profession, whenever a recruiter called me, the first thing I tried to determine was: ‘Are they calling me because I’m a qualified candidate who happens to be female, or are they calling just because they needed a female in the interview mix?’”

In this instance, Sculley determined that gender was not a factor in San Antonio’s interest. “They seemed serious about recruiting me,” she writes.

The fear of gender bias wasn’t unreasonable for Sculley. “Early in my career in the 1980s, there weren’t a lot of women in the room,” she writes. “There was often only one at the front end rising up within the ranks of management. As we made progress, I got to witness many ‘first woman to . . .’ announcements. In fact, I was the ‘first woman’ to earn every position throughout my career except the city manager position in San Antonio. But I was dismayed to see that other women often took a swipe at whomever had just put a chip in the glass ceiling rather than cheering her accomplishment. It stung the most when I was the one making those chips myself.

“I watched it happen again and again: women working against other women. It was hard enough to deal with men who were unsupportive of women in management.

“Madeline Albright, during a keynote address at a 2006 luncheon honoring the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, took the concept to another level. ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women,’ she said.”

Sculley has done quite the opposite. Assistant City Manager Gloria Hurtado (who she recruited as human services director and later promoted to assistant city manager) and Sculley “built the award-winning Women’s Leadership Mentoring Program, which matches junior female staffers with senior female executives. Now in its sixth year, that initiative boasts a 75 percent retention rate and 42 percent of the program participants have since earned a promotion,” she writes.

When she first arrived in San Antonio, Sculley discovered many problems, including significant glitches in the implementation of a new financial software system. That meant the city’s finance department could not produce a financial statement. “Yep,” she writes, “here I was orienting myself to the new $2 billion business I had taken over and now I was being told I’d need to do it without the benefit of proper financial reporting.”

As she worked on remediating that situation, it took nine months before her finance department could deliver a statement. And “When I finally did get a consolidated annual financial report from the external auditors in the fall of 2006, it included a fifteen-page management letter. That meant fifteen pages of issues that needed to be addressed. This was unheard of to me.”

To address this issue, she brought in an auditor familiar with the city to address multiple problems in the management letter. “Over time (and it took a while),” writes Sculley, “we have brought the issues identified in our annual management letter down to zero.”

During her tenure as city manager, Sculley built a firm foundation of good financial practices, which led to the city’s receiving a AAA bond rating. Still, to paraphrase the oft-cited aphorism, “running a city is just one damn thing after another.”

Consider a frustration she shared with the city council about the public works department and its difficulty managing street maintenance and construction projects. Her discovery: “They had been doing it backwards.”

As she explains, the public works department had been handling its heavy street reconstruction in-house, while contracting out easier efforts like repairing cracks or putting down overlays to extend the useful life of streets. “Of course,” she explains, “the heavy work requires big equipment and in our public works department those machines were constantly breaking down halfway through projects, leading to cost overruns, project delays and unfinished streets.’

The solution: “My team and I flipped the script quickly. We began to contract out all the heavy construction work, freeing us from the purchasing and upkeep of costly equipment. The city now undertakes the lighter work of maintaining our street; we fill potholes. put up traffic signals and repair signs.” Naturally, the city still oversees the larger projects, “but the changes we implemented have made a world of difference in terms of performance and cost.”

Solving issues like this had one thing in common: By and large everyone wants the same outcomes. 

Such was not the case with the battle of her career, a long-term struggle to renegotiate contracts with the city’s unions. While union leaders may not enjoy reading Sculley’s angry and often blunt appraisal of their actions, from a strictly financial standpoint, her battles with the city’s unions are both informative and (voyeuristically) intriguing.

Going through the ins and outs of these chapters of Sculley’s would take far too long for this summary as they consume a large portion of her book. But her experiences being vilified by unions who portrayed her as “an enemy of the police” leave readers with a kind “deer in the headlights” sensation.

A certain amount of misogyny played into the tensions that she felt during this time. “I believe I was subjected to much more verbal abuse by the unions than a man would have been,” she writes. “In fact, a city councilman once told me, ‘the cops don’t want to lose to a girl.’ But a media campaign cruelly targeting me as an individual was not something I had signed on for. It wasn’t something I would have asked any of my staff members to weather.”

Ultimately, through court cases and arbitrations, she was able to save the city a good chunk of money, while still leaving behind contracts that she believed were too generous in many ways.

The whole process was painful to Sculley in a number of ways, and as she recalled “My support network of family and friends helped me through the process. During the darkest moments, I recall thinking that I should perhaps be more concerned about how dire the situation had become when friend after friend would call to ask if I was OK. I remember asking my husband, Mike, if he thought I should be more concerned about my well-being.

“Mike and our children were supportive beyond words They kept me centered with their love and candid assessments of the situations at hand.

“My closest friends, mostly women would regularly check on me and offer to arrange dinner or a drink.”

The women she refers to as a skirt mafia, “offered support and kept me busy with each of their community projects and a perspective of what was important in San Antonio.” 

In fact, “some of these women became part of our ‘Texas delegation’ at the Women in the World (WITW) summits produced by media giant Tina Brown in New York City each April. The summits have been an inspiration so much that we have hosted salon versions of WITW in San Antonio.”



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