Just over a year has passed since Sheryl Sculley arrived in San Antonio to take over as city manager. The first outsider to fill the manager’s job since Tom Huebner in the late 1970s, Sculley came with an impressive price tag and the promise of turning San Antonio into one of the nation’s “best cities.”
The last year brought lots of changes inside City Hall: We’ve hired a new police chief, a new convention-bureau director, and two deputy city managers. The finance department has been reshuffled, the municipal courts redone, the convention center and Alamodome management restructured. The Development Services department, long the focus of complaints from the local “development” community, also received a going-over.
The “inside” game is just part of the manager’s job. Often far more difficult is the “outside” role, dealing with the public and media on major issues and conflicts. Perhaps the biggest flap to date was the resignation and replacement of city auditor Pat Major. Major, who broke new ground as the City’s first independent auditor, was clearly unappreciated by Sculley and Hardberger. The first efforts at finding a replacement capable of serving as a real watchdog over City Hall doings looked to be stage-managed by Sculley.
How Sculley performs in 2007 will have much to do with a planned $550-million bond issue for next May’s citywide ballot — the biggest single bond scheme in the city’s history, far beyond the $100- to $120-million packages that have been voted on in the last two decades. With the fiscal reach comes a dramatic political shift. Ever since the failure of a 1978 bond plan, the bond packages have been neatly divided up by council district, assuring every part of the city a roughly equal share of the spending and benefits. This time, City Council will oversee just a small slice of the $550 million, with projects picked instead by a set of citizen committees. Expect big, citywide projects, not modest neighborhood improvements, but the appearance of citizen participation is likely just that — an appearance.
It remains to be seen whose pet projects will get picked, and what parts of town will get the goodies. But having failed to sell voters on a crime-control district and tax last year, Mayor Hardberger and Manager Sculley will really have to sell the “no tax increase” pledge that goes with the bonds — especially as the local housing market noses downward.