When Sheryl Sculley was recruited to serve as San Antonio’s new city manager in 2005, the organization she inherited was a disorganized mess. City infrastructure was crumbling, strong financial policies were non-existent, many executive positions were vacant, public satisfaction was low, ethical standards were weak, and the salaries and benefits of the police and fire departments were crowding out other essential city services.
Simply put, San Antonio was on the verge of collapse. In her new book, Greedy Bastards, Sheryl tells the story of the uphill battle to turn around the San Antonio city government. In today’s conversation, she takes us behind closed doors to share the hard changes she made and the strategies she used to create mutually beneficial solutions to the city’s biggest problems.
But the issues that Sheryl uncovered in San Antonio are present in cities across the United States. In today’s climate, as conversations swirl around reorganizing police budgets and even defunding them, this book is now more important than ever. Packed with wins and losses, lessons learned, and pitfalls encountered, Greedy Bastards is a guidebook for anyone who is curious to learn more about how cities function, as well as for any city official tasked with turning around a struggling city.
Miles Rote: Hey everyone, my name is Miles Rote and I am excited to be here today with Sheryl Sculley, author of Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis. Sheryl, I’m excited you’re here, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Sheryl Sculley: Thank you, Miles, I’m excited to be here as well.
Miles Rote: This book was such an amazing read, I had so much fun reading it and you have such a fascinating story. I’m really excited to talk about everything. And one of the big things you touch on in the book is very relevant today and that’s your experience in reorganizing the police budget in San Antonio and the backlash that you actually got from that. Of course, there are so many discussions today about reorganizing police budgets and even defunding the police.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about your journey to San Antonio and some of the initiatives you started when you arrived. Perhaps, we can even begin at the beginning in Kalamazoo where you ended up becoming the first woman and youngest person ever appointed city manager. Tell us a little bit about that?
Sheryl Sculley: Well, it was back in the early days of my career. It’s been a long career starting in Kalamazoo, Michigan when I graduated from college from Ball State University in Indiana. I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, with my new husband, Mike Sculley, and it is his hometown. I took a job with the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I really took that job to hold me over until I found what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be a political journalist and work in downtown Chicago. But, as happens in life’s journey, I took a job with the city and I loved doing the work. Of course, my undergraduate degree was in journalism and political science. I enjoyed doing the work and worked there for 10 years and competed for the city manager’s job and was selected.
It was an interesting process. I interviewed in public in Michigan. There was an audience beyond the mayor and council, and also the media. It was a somewhat intimidating process, however, I figured, if I could interview under those conditions, I could probably interview most anywhere.
I was selected, and I served as city manager there for five years and then was recruited to Phoenix, Arizona. I had never been to Phoenix, and by that time, our children were preschool age. Mike and I decided that we’d take the adventure and if it didn’t work out, we were both marketable and we’d do something else. We ended up staying in Phoenix for 16 years, our kids graduated from school there and went off to college. My daughter went to Texas and my son in California. Phoenix was a great experience, I never thought I’d leave but, San Antonio came knocking and recruited me to come to the state of Texas.
Miles Rote: They recruited you pretty heavily too if I remember according to your book. And you actually turned down the role the first time and then they came back a second or third time, isn’t that right?
Sheryl Sculley: That’s true, they contacted me and I told them that I really wasn’t looking, I enjoyed and was excited about the work I was doing in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a high-growth environment, I had the opportunity to work on numerous once-in-a-lifetime types of projects and issues. I hadn’t interviewed for 16 years because I had been working in the number two position in Phoenix and so I thought well, let’s take a look at it. My daughter was a freshman at the University of Texas, she had chosen when she graduated from high school in Phoenix to go to Texas.
My son was going off to school in California so, I did the interview. I did turn it down the first time and then Mayor Phil Hardberger was elected in June of 2005. He and a couple of other businesspeople made some cold calls and said we want you to come. I said no, initially, but as I got to know Phil over the summer, I thought, this would be an excellent experience and opportunity for me to be a city manager again. And San Antonio was such a wonderful, beautiful, high-growth city as well. I thought that my skills could be used there and so Mike and I made the move again, and here we are in San Antonio still, 15 years later.
Miles Rote: Amazing. There’s an interesting story too in your book about what happened right after you said yes. I think you had two months to exit Phoenix but right away, you were pulled back to San Antonio because Hurricane Katrina hit. What happened with that?
Sheryl Sculley: Well yes, I was appointed in the late summer of 2005, as city manager, but I had negotiated to actually begin officially full-time the beginning of November. However, right after my appointment, in fact, the following week, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast and so I came back to San Antonio that Labor Day Weekend to help with the recovery effort. Then I continued to come back to the city every other week to begin the process of the work that I needed to do, and that the council was looking for me to undertake here in San Antonio.
Even though I didn’t officially start my work until early November of 2005, I was already it seemed, on payroll, but not really on payroll working with the city and the staff. There were so many vacant executive positions and so much work to do that I needed to get started early.
Miles Rote: Yeah, it didn’t necessarily get easier after that subsided and you were in San Antonio full-time. When you first started, you started to realize pretty quickly that there was a lot of work to do. You got a pretty clear idea as to why you were recruited so heavily, and it seemed like the city needed a lot of help. Let’s start there, what are some of the challenges you faced in that new role when you first came to San Antonio?
Sheryl Sculley: First and foremost, they wanted me to evaluate the talent and make changes. There were many executive vacancies, as I said, and one of the first positions I needed to fill was the police chief. I was able to recruit Bill McManus to San Antonio, but it was an extensive process. We had 11 internal applicants for the position and I interviewed all 11 of those. I also advertised nationally.
Then, I put together a community panel–not to pick the police chief for me but rather, to get their input because as an outsider, what I was hearing from people first was that we tried to hire someone from the outside once and it didn’t work. We can’t do that. Also, I’d hear from folks that the person needed to be black or the person needed to be brown or we wanted to see women considered in the mix. There were lots of concerns and so I brought in community people from all walks of life.
I invited neighborhood representatives, the president of the NAACP, representatives from LULAC, from the gay/lesbian community, the police union president, the Chamber of Commerce executive director, all types of people on three community panels.
Then I narrowed the finalists to eight finalists for internal candidates and for external national candidates. I interviewed all eight, one on one and the candidates also rotated among three panels. At the end of the day, I had dinner with my executive staff who chaired each of the panels and they said, “Oh my gosh, I know we told you that you can’t go outside but you have to go outside. We’re just disappointed in how our candidates internally compare to the national talent pool.” To a person, everyone thought that Bill McManus would be the best choice. I thought so too. But I wanted to hear from others, their input from their vantage point, so I could understand what the community wanted and what they were looking for.
Here we are today. Bill McManus is still the chief, he’s done a fantastic job, he’s endeared by the community, and I’m very proud of that early hire.
Miles Rote: That’s amazing. Yeah, there were so many other initiatives that you started as soon as you got there. I know that there was a fire safety equipment crisis with the firefighters with even their masks not working. You helped fix that. There was a trash and recycling problem. I think only 6% of all recycling was actually being recycled and the city was going into debt every year with that program. You transformed how the city was doing street maintenance.
Tell us some about the early experiences coming into San Antonio and the things that you implemented to change the city?
Sheryl Sculley: It was overwhelming, to say the least. In fact, when I went back to Phoenix for Christmas–my children went back there and my husband was still there with our son who was finishing up his senior year of high school before he was going off to California to college. We all got together there and Mayor Hardberger called me and said, “You’re coming back, aren’t you?” We laughed, but I said, “My gosh, you didn’t tell me how bad it is.”
He said, “That’s why we hired you, we need your help.” And so it was almost every week, it was another crisis, you mentioned the fire equipment, that actually happened the weekend before I was officially on the job, I had come in to unpack and get myself organized, but never did get to those boxes because there were so many things happening so quickly that needed immediate attention.
Needless to say, the self-contained breathing apparatus is a life or death situation for our fire personnel. It was malfunctioning and we did get that corrected. I hosted a news conference, my second day on the job and told the mayor, here’s how we’re going to approach this, I brought in, of course, the fire chief and the fire union president and said, “Here, we’re going to increase our staffing to make sure we have adequate backup.” I introduced myself to the Southwest Research Institute to ask for their help to look at that equipment and examine what needed to be improved.
But in the end, we ended up replacing that equipment and now have well-functioning equipment. It’s an example of so many of the things that we faced in those early months and years. Trying to improve service delivery to the residents of the community and improve the organizational professionalism and excellence among the executive staff. In the end, over the years, I did end up replacing all of the 40 different department heads, save one–our library director. We fondly refer to him as the last man standing but he’s done an excellent job.
It was a very difficult process but what I was able to do was identify people that were within the organization–some of them were somewhat buried in the organization–who had excellent talent and perhaps were underutilized. We promoted them, and brought them into some leadership positions. Coached, helped them get the training that they needed to be successful. Mix that up with the national talent pool.
I think San Antonio is one of the top 10 largest cities in the country by population. We have 13,000 employees, it’s a major municipal corporation. In fact, it is one of the largest council manager forms of government cities in the country. Phoenix is the largest, San Antonio second, and Dallas third. It takes an immense amount of talent. It’s a complicated organization and I believe in mixing it up, a combination of people promoted from within and also comparing to the national talent pool and to recruit those from elsewhere who have experience doing this type of work that is complicated in the city.
Miles Rote: I think your book does a really good job of pointing to the facts that although a city on its surface may seem like it’s doing well, San Antonio during that time was, booming, I think it was maybe the second largest growing city at the time, I could be wrong about that, but as soon as you got in there, you could see all of the cracks.
How often or how common, rather, do you think that is with other cities where things may seem okay on the surface but when you really dig in and see what’s going on, there’s a lot of work to be done?
Sheryl Sculley: Well, it’s hard to tell, unless you’re there in the middle of it. I can tell you that Kalamazoo and Phoenix, the cities I had worked in, were well-managed cities with excellent reputations. When I came to San Antonio, people loved to come to San Antonio, people loved living here. It’s a high growth environment. It’s hard to tell, I’ll share with you though, as I talk about in the book, I couldn’t get a financial report from my finance department for nine months of my first year here.
At the time, we were just over a two-billion-dollar annual operating budget and so you can’t manage without knowing where you stand financially. Fortunately, we were in the high-growth years. If you think back to 05, 06, 07, we were still growing. I knew we had money coming in, I didn’t know how much. It was a very dangerous situation.
I contemplated whether or not I wanted to stay but I felt committed that I was here to help improve the organization and we were able to turn around the finance department and make it one of the best in the country. Of course, we were able to achieve a Triple-A General Obligation Bond Rating for the first time in the city’s history by setting in place and recommending to the city council strong financial policies to improve our city finances.
We built our reserves and were able to better manage the city’s finances. That’s something that the general public would not necessarily see. They know that we’re in high-growth, so they think things are going well. But there were so many needs in the city and I didn’t feel as though we were adequately serving those needs. We had to do an awful lot of analysis to improve different parts of our city operations.
You mentioned the garbage collection, we were not fully automated when I came to San Antonio. In fact, we were not automated at all, the recycling rate was less than 10%, we’re now approaching 40% and have a goal of 60% by the year 2025. Change is difficult but we can all learn change and improve and that’s really what the effort was about in those early years.
Miles Rote: Yeah, in addition to improving the finances and everything else, you worked on the city’s bond program I think for 10 years. It was right around 360 million, and then after you had been working on it over 10 years, you got it up to more than two billion. Although, as you mentioned, the city might not directly see those things as far as numbers, they do get to see them as far as how the city looks, and I know there are new fire stations built and new libraries.
Tell us about that experience of bringing so much money into the city through that bond program.
Major Bond Programs
Sheryl Sculley: One of the reasons I think the city council was interested in recruiting me here was the fact that I had overseen major bond programs in Phoenix. In fact, when I was recruited to Phoenix back in 1988, it was to implement the billion-dollar bond program Phoenix voters had just approved.
If you think about that, back in 1988, a billion-dollar bond program. Phoenix is similar in size just slightly bigger than San Antonio and geographically similar but a young city. The infrastructure was younger and was committed to those kinds of improvements in the community. When I came to San Antonio, I saw that their last several bond programs had been in the 100-million-dollar range. 100 million is a lot of money, don’t get me wrong. But, for a city this large, we needed to be doing so much more.
I’m an old marathon runner and so when I came to San Antonio on the weekends to do a long run, I go out to different parts of the city to learn the city and run in that part of the city. I recall thinking from the very beginning, “My gosh, these roads need so much improvement, the sidewalks are nonexistent in so many neighborhoods.”
I knew our work was cut out for us. So, in the first six months I was city manager, the council asked if I would put together a big bond program and they were thinking in the billion-dollar range. I looked at the finances, worked with my newly appointed finance director Ben Gorzell on what we could do financially without a tax increase. I did not recommend a tax increase for any of the bond programs we did and yet, we were able to develop and recommend to the voters two billion in improvements in three different bond programs.
We started with 550 million back in 2007 that the voters approved. We focused primarily on very basic streets, sidewalks, and drainage improvements. Then the second bond program five years later of 600 million, again, focused on basic infrastructure. And then five years again in 2017, an 850-million-dollar bond program focused again on infrastructure but also a library branch and fire stations and park expansions and improvement.
There’s still more work to do, we’re still playing catch up because we maintain more than 4,000 miles of streets. That’s a lot of infrastructure. There is still more work to do but I’m very proud of the fact that not only were we able to develop these financial plans that allow the city council to consider big infrastructure improvements every five years, but also to execute on those programs with professionalism and efficiency and to stay within budget.
I’m a stickler around that. We worked to our timelines and we managed the budget. In fact, we saved money in the first bond program because we were constructing during the recession, our bid prices were coming in very well, and we were able to reprogram savings of almost 50 million into additional street improvements that the council approved.
You know, it’s one thing to have a big bond program but if you don’t have the organizational structure in place to be able to deliver those projects well, it doesn’t really matter. I reorganized our capital construction and public works functions within the city organization. I wanted a group that got up every morning and focused on building. By doing that, we were able to separate that workflow and deliver some great capital improvement projects for the community.
We also involved dozens and dozens, more than a hundred residents in the community on committees to consider our staff recommendations–to talk about those and to make recommendations to the city council which projects should be included. It was a great process, I attended all of those meetings and it wasn’t just to get their input. It was also to educate the public on how this works. I remember a resident saying to me in one of those early meetings, “Gosh, this is hard. We have so many needs. How do we pick among all of these needs in the community?” I replied, “Now you understand how difficult a job a city council member has as they try to make decisions for the community.”
So, it was an educational process as well, but in the end, we’ve made dramatic improvements in the community that I know the community appreciates.
Miles Rote: In a role like that it seems like those tough decisions never stopped coming, as you continued to find ways to optimize and grow the city, and find ways to increase budget and get more money coming in, and organizing it in a way where you could execute on the things that mattered. You started to realize that there was a pretty big problem with the city’s police budget–how it had been inflated in certain ways.
There is a lot of talk today about the need for police budgets to be reorganized and defunded. So, what was your experience knowing firsthand what that looks like and then trying to actually implement change and reorganize the budget to ensure that the city had the money that it needed and it was going to the right places?
Sheryl Sculley: Well, let me start by saying I am not about defunding the police department. Public safety is a core service of any municipality–police and fire services, and public safety as a core business needs to be funded adequately.
What I found in San Antonio is that there were collected bargaining agreements that had been in place since 1988 that were consuming a greater and greater percentage of the city’s general fund budget every year.
In fact, it was growing at a fast rate. So, we studied that very closely and did some actual projections to look at, “Okay, if it is increasing faster than our revenue growth at what point does it consume 100% of the general fund budget?” That was somewhat of an academic exercise but it made the point that left unattended if we didn’t study those expenses and make changes structurally to the business model of how those departments were funded and how they were organized, that we’d be in a crisis situation.
So, knowing that that was our road ahead, we decided to tackle those contracts that have been put in place back in 1988. Each time they came up for renewal there were some minor adjustments made to increase wages, but the benefit structure was incomplete. That was a major challenge and back in 2013, I presented the business case to the mayor and city council. We spent the summer studying the numbers and convincing the mayor that we needed to take on this challenge and he agreed.
He and then the council then appointed a legacy task force to study some of those issues to make changes. I thought that a very public, transparent, data-driven process would allow us to bring everyone to the table and negotiate organizational changes structurally, and how we were providing those wages and benefits to the public safety personnel. I learned very quickly that it was a long and bumpy road to do so and it became very personal and difficult in the process.
But in the end, we were able to achieve financial savings, but it took several years to do that, and it became very nasty. The one thing we didn’t get in that process when we started was the disciplinary changes to the contract that allowed the police chief to make changes in personnel when officers make serious mistakes and are not functioning within policy. That still has work to be done and that’s the timely part of the conversation today.
We need to allow the chief to be able to discipline and terminate officers that are not performing, as they should be up to the community expectations.
Miles Rote: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s a problem that a lot of cities have. I used to actually be a police officer in Phoenix and there were a lot of things as well that I could see happening just on the surface level, not even really digging deep and it is part of the reason why I chose to leave.
There is a lot you uncovered as you really started to dig into this, including the fact that police officers were actually paid extra for being a licensed peace officer, which you have to be a licensed peace officer to be a police officer in the first place, as well as an unlimited budget to go to college and get a law degree while you’re a firefighter and charge that essentially to the city.
So, what were some of those challenges that you faced and how did you go about trying to fix those problems? It seems like they were old standards from 1988 that no one had really done anything about and now it was bloating to a point where it was no longer sustainable?
Sheryl Sculley: Well you are right, it certainly wasn’t affordable even. Back in 2013, we had just come off the great recession and we had to make cuts in other areas of the budget, social services, parks, even street maintenance, to be able to continue to pay and afford the public safety departments, both police, and fire because their benefits are very similar. The priorities at the time were financial, but we had several priorities–reordering, redesigning, remodeling the healthcare that the public safety employees enjoyed.
Back in 1988, they were given healthcare that basically was free to them. They had no premiums that they paid for their families and we’re not talking about on the job injuries–the city addresses those. We are talking about general healthcare. My spouse has hypertension, my child broke an arm, another child has asthma, just those basic healthcare needs that are important. It was costing the city an excessive amount of money. In fact, we were paying at one point, almost $20,000 per officer just for healthcare.
So, their overhead rate was extremely high, and we knew there were ways where we could remodel that healthcare that would still provide them excellent healthcare but do it in a different way. They just refused to have that conversation, knowing that it was to the detriment of the city by not making those changes.
At one point in the process, they said, “Well if you don’t have enough money just raise taxes.” I responded by saying, “Hey, wait a minute, I am not going to recommend raising taxes to do that because there is another way to go about it and still provide you excellent healthcare. But by the way, that is easy for you to say because most of you don’t live in the city.” Cities in Texas are prohibited from requiring residency. So, less than half of our police and even fewer of our firefighters even lived in the city of San Antonio. We prioritized those financial issues, as well as the disciplinary changes that were needing to get accomplished in that contract negotiation. Their contracts were to expire in September of 2014.
We began a year ahead of that with the legacy task force to study the issues and have that conversation. I was hopeful that that would set the stage for the negotiations, but they wouldn’t budge. They really didn’t want to make any changes and became very obstinate about that and very difficult, quite candidly.
Another aspect of that was called the legal fund. The city funds 1.5 million a year into a legal fund that helps officers with wills and estate planning, divorces, child custody disputes, and even criminal defense for any issues for themselves or their families.
So, as we talked about this, people in the community would ask me, “Oh my gosh, are we really paying for that, and who let this go on for all of these years?” So, there were many questions from the community. The police and fire union representatives were very angry with me that we were even having this kind of public conversation. They viewed it as attacking them but instead, what we were trying to do was have a very open, transparent conversation about, “Here is the way it was, and here is how and why it needs to change going forward,” because it certainly wasn’t sustainable.
Miles Rote: In your book, you talked about people coming up to you in the city who were residents, who were even trying to fight for child rights. They would have to go to court to do it and they would have to pay all of their own court fees. But then their husband or their wife who, say, was a police officer since all of their court fees were handled and paid for by the city, they would just say, “Take me to court, do whatever you need to do.” But then, the people who had to pay all of their own lawyer fees, they couldn’t win or even afford to go up against police officers. So, it seems like it was very unfair and unjust in that way where the police officers could take anyone to court and not even have to think twice about it.
Sheryl Sculley: Well, I actually learned about the legal fund when I was approached by a woman who was an ex-spouse of a police officer. She said, “Hey, why does the city fund my ex-husband for the divorce and child custody dispute? If I want to change visitation, he tells me I have to go to court. I can’t afford it and he has access to this city-funded program that helps him cover those costs,” and she said, “This isn’t fair and it is discriminatory against women since 90% of our police officers are men.”
I looked into it and that is when I learned some of the details about this legal fund. My team of lawyers and staff that were working on these contract negotiations decided that that needed to be one of the items on the list. That may have been in the past that they did that but going forward we needed to eliminate that fund.
Miles Rote: You mentioned the amount of heat that you started to get from police and fire as you’re looking into these things and trying to change these things. This is after you’ve done so much for the city, including working to actually expand the River Walk, which is one of the most popular destinations in the country in San Antonio, from three miles to 15 miles. You did so much for the city. You were in a position where you saw a big problem and you’re trying to fix it and not only are you getting shut out, but they started to run smear campaigns against you. Tell us what that must have felt like and been like.
Sheryl Sculley: Well it was hurtful. It was painful, but as I told my staff at the time, always focus on what we’re doing in the best interest of the city. If it is in the best interest, if it will save money, if it will make life better for residents in the community, then we need to stay the course. I knew that what we were attempting to do to change these contracts that had been in place for more than 25 years, was needed. Or it would present a financial crisis for the city in the future.
I suggested that why wait until it’s a crisis? Let’s take some smaller steps now, make those changes, so we aren’t facing that type of financial crisis in the future. So, we stayed focused on the work.
I told my staff and those who called and were worried about my wellbeing, just don’t look at those commercials. Don’t look at the ads, don’t listen to that, stay focused on what is important. It was a difficult environment. There is no question about that.
I felt that I, with the experience that I had as a city manager, that I was approaching kind of the end of my city management career. I worked in the public sector and this field of city management for 45 years at the time. When we took on this particular contract issue, I was approaching 40 years in city management. I thought I’d be retiring in a couple of years. I didn’t know it was going to take six years to get through police and fire contracts.
But in the end, we were successful in making changes, but there is more work to do. I took a different approach than what had been done in the past as we took this on. We interviewed legal labor firms to help us and we did the negotiations in public at city hall. We explained to the media what the purpose of each session was ahead of time to let them know what we’d be talking about.
The whole idea was to have transparency and a conversation about why things needed to change but they were resistant. It was a very difficult time but, in the end, we were able to save more than $150 million in expenses to the city for the changes we made in both the police and fire contracts. That is just within this five-year term of their agreements. Thank goodness we did because now, with the pandemic and what’s happened with the economy, I know that Erik Walsh, my successor who was my deputy while I was city manager, they’re facing a $200 million shortfall in revenues just this year because of the slowing of the economy. So, thank goodness that we did that and as I said, it was a team effort. There is still more work to do.
Miles Rote: And there is work to be done around the country, especially right now. What kind of advice would you offer, to city officials, city managers, politicians, or even just people like me–residents who know that work needs to be done? We know there is a lot of red tape and a lot of problems.
Your book does such a great job explaining all of this. This isn’t just for city officials or people who want to get involved in their city, it’s for anyone who is curious about how cities are run and what it can look like in the inside–the problems that can be there and how hard it can be to manage–like you said, a city with tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars of budget. So really, this book is for everyone, in that sense, and very timely right now.
What would you recommend for other officials or politicians if they want to enact change?
Sheryl Sculley: Well, first and foremost, you have to have the data. You have to understand where you are, where you are financially, what the community attitude is, do you have, most importantly, the support of your leadership? Do the mayor and council members support the kinds of change that you have identified that need to be done? My hope from this book is that the reader will benefit from the hard-won lessons that my team and I learned about how to make our way through all of this.
I do hope it provides some insight and knowledge and the tools to guide a city or a business in an organizational turnaround.
One thing I might do differently, if I were to do this again, would be to have a more concrete communications plan. The unions were able to portray us, and I say we, those who were working on this, my team, as well as the council members, as anti-police and that’s not the case at all. In fact, I highly value and respect and I am grateful for the work of our first responders.
I recommended during my ten years as city manager adding more than 650 new personnel to those departments. We added fire stations and police equipment. They’re well-funded with the equipment that they need and yet it has to be affordable to the taxpayer. They want their 911 service, they expect quality service. They expect to be treated justly and fairly but it has to be affordable.
I think that for those reading the book they’ll see some lessons learned but being able to communicate that constantly to the public is important as well because it’s easy to get wrapped up in, “Gosh, I am afraid to speak out against the police, I may need to call 911 or I may need that paramedic if something happens to my family. So, I am not sure I want to be vocal and criticize them and yet, we know that improvements are needed.”
I hope this book gives some insight to those who are looking to make a change because this book can be any city in the USA, not just San Antonio. There are improvements that are needed in police as well as fire departments across the country and as I said, there is more work to be done.
Miles Rote: Definitely and the book does such a good job of doing that and the tell-all attitude that you have in the book too just makes it more transparent and authentic. As a reader, I really appreciated that. If readers could take-away just one or two things from the book, what would you say they would be?
Sheryl Sculley: Never give up. If it’s worth doing, then stick with it. Don’t quit.
There were many times when it became difficult and some of those times when the unions ran those awful campaign ads, as though I was a candidate for office. Of course, I did not run ads countering that as most election campaign people would. It was very difficult, but you have to stay the course and don’t let it bring you down. I remember telling people–often they’d call and say, “Oh my gosh these ads are horrible!” I would say, “Well don’t look at them.”
Just stay focused on the work at hand, take the high road, stay professional, and don’t get in the gutter with them. They actually have a handbook on how to fight city hall. One of their chief negotiators wrote the book and describes how you pick someone to put in the crosshairs and you just keep pounding them to submission. My advice would be to make sure you have a well-thought-out plan that is data-driven, and that you have the support of your mayor and council as well as the community. I did some outreach to business leaders, to neighborhood association people about what kind of change was needed and we had tremendous support.
Miles Rote: Amazing. Well, thank you for the work that you’ve done. As a resident here in Austin, I am grateful for the work you’ve done in San Antonio and Texas and I think this is a wonderful model for people to read and really know that things are possible by seeing your journey. So, thank you for that. Sheryl, this has been such a pleasure. I am so excited for people to check the book out.
The book is titled, Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis, and you can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, Sheryl, is there anywhere else people can find you?
Sheryl Sculley: Well, I am available, in fact, I am already getting booked to speak to a number of local organizations and even a statewide entity about the book. I will just end by saying that I can’t take credit for the title of the book. It really was inspired by the police union president. So, I’ll just leave that, and the reader can investigate where the title of the book came from because I can’t take credit for it.
Miles Rote: One of my favorite things about it is turning everything on its head and I think it’s a perfect way to encapsulate what your book represents. So, thank you again for joining us today Sheryl, and thanks for everything you’ve done. We appreciate it.
Sheryl Sculley: Thank you, Miles.