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San Antonio

Walsh In First Public Appearance As Finalist For San Antonio City Manager

Jan. 24 UTSA. City Manager finalist Erik Walsh, left, answers questions from Maria Luisa Cesar during  a forum Wednesday
Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
City Manager finalist Erik Walsh, left, answers questions from Maria Luisa Cesar during a forum Wednesday at UTSA's downtown campus.

Updated at 11:38 a.m.

Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, who is slated to be the next city manager for San Antonio, appeared before the public Wednesday night at the University of Texas-San Antonio’s downtown campus.

The forum attracted about 150 people and is one of the last steps for vetting Walsh before the San Antonio City Council appoints him as city manager. Walsh has worked for the city for nearly 25 years and is a top assistant for current City Manager Sheryl Sculley for about 13 years.

Walsh began by saying his main priority as city manager would be to align himself with the policies of the San Antonio City Council.

“It’s home, and it means a lot more to me and I want this community — and, more importantly, the organization I would be responsible for — to do great things and continue to support the mayor and City Council on their priorities and executing their directives.”

WATCH | Forum with Erik Walsh begins at 12:00 in the video

Walsh started with the city in the mid-1990s as a budget analyst, two weeks after graduating from Trinity University with a master’s degree.

There were no live questions from the audience. All questions were submitted online in advance, and also submitted at the door. The forum was moderated by Maria Luisa Cesar, a former reporter with the San Antonio Express-News and former staff member of Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Walsh was asked his thoughts about various policies from the fire union contract, housing and gentrification, workforce development, and the cite-and-release program.

On housing, Walsh said the adoption of new policies from the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force — that provides $25 million into developing affording housing initiatives — is a priority of the council “and it will continue to be a priority for the staff to incorporate that into future plans.”

He added one of the main goals of that program is to better coordinate housing services for the public.

“Making sure folks know where to go for help and make it easily accessible,” he said.

The city has gone four years without a contract with the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighter’s Association. Walsh was part of the negotiations with the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association, which does have a contract.

Walsh currently oversees both the police and fire departments as deputy city manager. When asked about reaching an agreement with the fire union, Walsh said, “it’s not about being unreasonable on either side.”

“I think from a long-term financial standpoint, there will be others that will be watching us — others being rating agencies on how we deal with this issue,” he said. “We’re going to have to be thoughtful on that. But at some point, it will get resolved.

Ramon Pena, a business owner in Market Square was among the audience members, said he believes Walsh is qualified for the job.

“He knows the process, he’s learned the ropes, and he knows the ins and the outs about how city government works. When you work for some institution for 25 years you are prepared to do everything that the job calls for,” Pena said.

He said he appreciated Walsh’s efforts to make the city as transparent as possible.

“In the past, we have seen where they have been very secretive about who gets the contract and big contracts have only been awarded only to special interest groups. We like to see him sort of push for small business, economic development, like the Mercado when we got started 40 years ago,” he said.

But some answers Walsh gave didn’t address the issues, Pena said.

“When he talks in generalities, that means that he is sort of avoiding the real issue,” he said. “We need to talk about education: How is the city is the city going to help make sure education stays on course?” he said. “How do we make sure it leads in the direction of creating opportunities for small businesses and people in general?”

One of the next steps in the process is negotiating the terms of Walsh’s contract. The City Council is expected to discuss that in closed session Thursday.

“It’s not going to be any secret, in fact, I don’t think there’s going to be any drama at all,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “We know the bounds that we will live within with regard to Proposition B, we have a good frame to work with in terms of how the professional team has been put together, so I don’t think there’s going to be any surprises.”

Under Prop B, which voters approved in November, Walsh will be limited to a total compensation package — both salary and bonus — to 10 times the lowest-salaried employee, which would be about $312,000. He would also be limited to eight years in office.

The council is expected to confirm Walsh as the next city manager on Jan. 31.

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Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org or on Twitter @joeycules

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated with information on how questions were gathered.