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City Manager Fires Back; Claims Health Director Dismissal Was Over Conduct And Treament of Women

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
City Manager Sheryl Sculley (left), Former MetroHealth Director Dr. Thomas Schlenker

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley is issuing a statement after Dr. Thomas Schlenker, the health director she terminated, blamed his firing on a dispute over sugary beverages.

In a statement Wednesday night, Sculley said Dr. Schlenker was not dismissed because she disagreed with his campaign against soda.  Instead, she said it was the “result of a two-year history of increasing dissatisfaction with his lack of leadership, continued disregard for direction and repeated instances of unprofessional conduct” in an e-mailed statement.

“Concern over his unprofessional treatment of women up and down the chain of command was communicated to him on several occasions.  His active detachment from his role within our executive team and his disconnect with City policies were also a concern. In October of 2014, I reassigned his reporting relationship from an Assistant City Manager to a Deputy City Manager and explained to him that I was giving him one last chance to meet the performance expectations of an executive in this organization. A few weeks ago, I learned of other instances of inappropriate and unprofessional comments to or about women by Dr. Schlenker. I met with him last week and discussed these matters. He admitted making these comments. Finding no justifiable explanation for his conduct, I requested his resignation.  He refused to resign and I terminated him. His ongoing public comments confirm that this is the right decision.”

She adds the city removed sugary soda from vending machines in 2010 in a efford to encourge employee health and wellness.

Schlenker was removed from his position a week ago after serving as director for four years.  Wednesday night Schlenker declined to be interviewed about the city manager’s claims, but provided a written statement: “If they were truly complaints lodged with the City of San Antonio Human Resources, as per policy, I should have been notified in a timely manner, not two years later, and given a chance to apologize if warranted,” he said via e-mail.

Schlenker had previously said City Manager Sculley was retaliating because she’s angry that he campaigned against soda consumption while the city manager was trying to attract financial investment for the city from beverage companies.

“Sugary beverages was not the only point of contention between Mrs. Sculley and myself but it was the most persistent and profound.  It was perceived by Mrs. Sculley that my outspoken linkage of sugary beverages to obesity and diabetes was hindering her efforts to solicit large donations from the soda industry.  She told me this herself.  I heard her but was not willing to back off.  At Metro Health, on the fight against obesity and on many other fronts, we have had tremendous success and many men and women of Metro Health have flourished under my leadership.   But clearly, I have pushed the department farther and faster than manager Sculley would tolerate … The three remarks that she had collected going back two years and gives as evidence for my immediate dismissal were embellished and taken out of context.  All were from private conversations I had with Metro Health staff, within the work place.  None were made in anger or malice, rather they were friendly remarks made in good will.  Mrs. Sculley portrayed them as complaints made against me, but the first I heard of them was last Wednesday.”

As for the inappropriate comments to employees: Schlenker claims he made it a point to treat all employees at the city’s MetroHealth department with respect “I certainly do misstep from time to time but my goal is to treat everyone with respect and courtesy without regard to station, race/ethnicity or gender,” he said.