Eight candidates remain in the running to be the next city manager.
6 internal applicants among group aiming to replace Sculley
The City Council whittled down a list of 23 candidates for the city manager’s job to eight, including all six internal applicants.
The eight will undergo additional interviews early next week. By late Tuesday, the field will be reduced to two or three candidates, who will be interviewed again Wednesday. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the council will select a lone finalist to replace City Manager Sheryl Sculley after the second round of interviews.
Sculley announced that she was retiring soon after the Nov. 6 election, when voters overwhelmingly approved a proposition that sets a salary cap and tenure limit for future city managers. While the proposition doesn’t affect her, it was widely seen as a referendum of Sculley’s compensation. With a $475,000 base salary and up to $100,00 in performance-based bonus, she is the highest-paid city manager in the nation.
During her 13-year tenure, Sculley worked for four mayors and oversaw a department of about 12,000 employees and a budget of about $2.7 billion. She is credited with improving city finances and services; she has stewarded three massive bond projects, implemented the Pre-K 4 SA program that’s hailed as a model and brought a budgeting approach that has enabled the city to maintain a triple-A bond rating, among numerous other accomplishments.
But her critics saw an overpaid manager who wielded too much power and mishandled relations with the fire union by hauling it
Nirenberg said the eight candidates are a diverse group that includes national and even international candidates.
“We know it’s a high-profile and highly attractive position from within the industry, so it’s no surprise that we’ve got qualified candidates internally and externally,” he said. “We feel like we have a good pool of candidates to select from.”
The six internal candidates are deputy city managers Erik Walsh and Peter Zanoni and assistant city managers Carlos Contreras, Maria Villagómez, Lori Houston and Rod Sanchez.
The only two external candidates to make the cut are retired Las Vegas Deputy City Manager Orlando Sanchez and Dallas Assistant City Manager Majed AlGhafry. The latter previously served as San Antonio’s public works director before going to Dallas, where he now works for another former San Antonio assistant city manager, T.C. Broadnax.
Councilman Rey Saldaña said it’s no surprise that all six internal candidates were invited to the next step in the process. Nirenberg and others have said Sculley was pushed years ago to build a succession plan. In doing so, she gave opportunities to her assistants to take on major issues, Saldaña said.
“It should be no surprise to anyone who follows the city of San Antonio that we’ve got a strong slate of candidates who are internal,” he said.
In fact, he said, those six could vie for any big-city manager position that opened up anywhere in the country.
“It’s a testament to Sheryl Sculley’s preparation for succession planning,” he said.
Walsh is widely seen as the leading candidate. He began his career with the city nearly 25 years ago as a budget analyst and has overseen the highest-profile departments, including police and fire, and has handled collective bargaining negotiations and high-profile contracts for years. His portfolio includes nearly a third of the city’s $2.8 billion annual budget.
Zanoni, also a deputy city manager, previously served as an assistant city manager and budget director. A native of Mexico, Maine, Zanoni has worked for the city since 1997.
Contreras, a lawyer, noted in his cover letter that he’s a secondgeneration San Antonian who has worked in both the private and public sectors. He’s been seen as one of Sculley’s trusted go-to assistants, someone who can handle difficult situations.
Villagómez, a certified public accountant, underscored in her letter to the council that she has deep experience in handling the city’s finances. Her career in San Antonio began in 1997.
Houston started as a municipal intern in 2002 before landing a full-time job with the then-Public Works Department in 2004. She’s since worked her way through the ranks and was named an assistant city manager in July 2015.
Rod Sanchez, now an assistant city manager, made a name for himself serving as the director of the city’s Development Services Department, which stayed in his portfolio when he was promoted. He joined city staff in 1993 as a budget and management analyst and notes in his cover letter that he’s a native San Antonian.
Al-Ghafry has ties to San Antonio, though he’s currently an assistant city manager in Dallas, where he oversees the water department, public works, transportation, sustainable development and construction and other infrastructure-related areas, including high-speed rail, according to his resume.
From 2008 to 2013, Al-Ghafry oversaw San Antonio’s public works department, which was folded into what’s now known as Transportation and Capital Improvements. He then served as an assistant city manager in El Cajon, Calif., before landing the job in Dallas.
Orlando Sanchez, the retired Las Vegas deputy city manager, held that position for 12 years, during which time he oversaw fire and rescue, public safety, municipal courts, public works, parks and recreation, human resources and other city departments.
After the finalist is made public, city officials will begin working with the candidate to do public outreach, including a public symposium that will allow interaction with residents, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 23.
Nirenberg expects the council will vote on the next city manager Jan. 31.
Sculley has said she would stay on as long as necessary to ensure a smooth transition, though she won’t stay past June 30.
If the council opts for one of the internal candidates, the transition likely won’t take as long.
The appointment of the next city manager will require a supermajority vote, meaning that at least eight council members must vote in favor of the candidate. Art Hall, the interim District 2 councilman, will be on the dais for that vote. Though he was appointed and sworn in Thursday, he received seven affirmative votes, which means he can’t take his seat on the dais for 10 days. However, the council now plans to vote Monday to change the effective date of his appointment so he can participate in the manager interview process.
Nirenberg said Friday that he expects a super-majority of the council to approve the measure, as required by city code.
“We feel like we have a good pool of candidates to select from.”
By late Tuesday, the field to replace City Manager Sheryl Sculley will be cut to two or three candidates from eight.