Following the money

By Gilbert Garcia

Two weeks ago, the Current asked the $47-million question. It went something like this: If, as various Councilmembers insisted at their December 11 session, City Manager Sheryl Sculley has saved this city $47 million over the last three years, and all we've been told is that $17 million of it came from reorganization efforts and savings accrued from a AAA bond rating, what about the other $30 million?

Over the last few weeks, we'd made inquiries with the Mayor's office and the Department of Management and Budget, but no one seemed to know where the other $30 million came from.

Well, this morning we received the most direct answer imaginable, as Sculley, Mayor Phil Hardberger and eight Councilmembers (Jennifer Ramos and Diane Cibrian were the only no-shows) held a press conference to announce that Sculley and her staff had discovered $30 million in unspent money from old, completed bond projects that would now be available to the city.

"We have some extraordinarily good news," Hardberger announced, noting that in these recessionary times, it's not often that municipal goverments find a spare $30 million burning holes in their pockets. "I imagine this is the first time in San Antonio history to find $30 million we didn't know we had." He added: "`Sculley` plays a principle role in this little drama that we're playing."

As Sculley prepared to enter the press briefing room, Councilwoman Delicia Herrera turned to her colleagues and said: "Let's clap when she walks in."

They didn't stop there. The room repeatedly filled with applause for Sculley, who explained the windfall by saying that when the city launched its current bond program in 2007, she and her staff began looking over the last 25 years of bond programs, and discovered money, earning interest, in various bank accounts.

"It was tedious and not as simple as it sounds," Sculley said, seemingly anticipating a question that asked if her "discovery' wasn't simply a matter of noticing what her predecessors had overlooked.

The funds are expected to be used for infrastructure improvements and spread more-or-less proportionally across the city's 10 districts, with priority given to projects such as Voelcker Park, the Mission Drive-in Library Project, and Medina Base Road.

Of course, all that talk about $47 million last month means that city leaders knew about the newly announced windfall several weeks ago (at least), but wanted to save it for a self-congratulatory press conference that would perk up the cold, dreary days of January.