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Former San Antonio City Manager To Release Book About Police Union Fight

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley (right) retired in early 2019 after being city manger for 13 years. Here she sits with her mother at her retirment ceremony.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley (right) retired in early 2019 after being city manger for 13 years. Here she sits with her mother at her retirment ceremony.

Former San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley will release a book later this summer called Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Sized Struggle To Avoid Financial Crisis.

In the book, Sculley discusses her career in city administration and focuses on the multi-year disagreement between the City of San Antonio and two unions: the San Antonio Police Officers Association and San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association.

Sculley said the title comes from a phrase used by the union president.

“The title is actually inspired by the president of the police union. He meant to malign me — as it turns out the phrase was how far the unions would go to protect the business model even if it meant harm to the city. And it also reflects how dirty the fight would get,” Sculley said in an interview with TPR.

The unions and the City of San Antonio spent years — beginning in 2014 — at impasse over collective bargaining contract negotiations with disputes specifically about healthcare and wages. At the time, police officers and firefighters received 100% of their healthcare premiums covered by the city, a cost that was growing too large for the city’s budget. Ultimately, some concessions were made, and the police and fire departments now share some of those costs.

However, that did not come without a hard fight. The police and fire union contracts were sent into evergreen clauses after deadlines passed and negotiations stalled. That resulted in court battles and campaigns for voter support of initiatives that would restrict city government.

Sculley spent 13 years as San Antonio’s city manager before retiring in 2019. Her announcement for retirement came shortly after voters approved a charter amendment that would limit the salary of future city managers. The charter amendment vote was initiated through a petition by the fire union. Voters supported the pay cap and a binding arbitration agreement for the fire union after impasse.

The public safety unions had mounted political campaigns during city election years and sought to drive public support against Sculley and her salary as city manager; at the time, she was making $425,000 per year.

“The unions didn’t like the fact that I was trying to change the contracts that they were able to put in place with the mayor and council in 1988. And no one before me had changed those contracts,” she said. “The heart of the issue had never really been addressed, and that’s when they turned on me and made me the focal point of their angst and animosity.”

The city and police union reached a deal in 2016, but the fire union used its binding arbitration powers and a contract was settled earlier this year.

In the introduction of the book, Sculley says the story isn’t about just San Antonio, “it’s about Any City, USA.”

“In the coming pages, you’ll learn about the financial, political, and emotional strings that two powerful public safety unions pulled to advance their own self-interests. You’ll read about the bloated benefits packages they negotiated long ago. And you’ll read how their overgrown contracts were able to survive two decades’ worth of city council votes and union negotiations. My hope is that you’ll benefit from the hard-won lessons that my team and I learned about how to best make our way through all of it.”

During an interview Wednesday, Sculley said part of the book is in response to another book written by the police union’s chief negotiator Ron DeLord.

“Their chief negotiator wrote a book about how to fight city hall when city managers and/or elected officials try to change their contracts, and they followed that guidebook pretty closely,” she said.

When asked if she would hope this is a playbook for city administrators when negotiating with their own unions, she said she wrote it with that in mind.

“There are cities across the country that are facing these very same challenges,” Sculley said. “We’re seeing that in the news now that policing has become such a national issue, and I think that the book will be helpful to city managers and to communities that are trying to accomplish a turn around for their city government and specifically to public safety.”

The current five-year contract with the police union expires next year. Provisions that protect officers are already coming under fire after recent nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd led to calls for defunding police departments and relocating their responsibilities.

The book is published by Lioncrest Publishing and will be released on August 11. Net proceeds from the book will be donated to local nonprofits, Sculley said.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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