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Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis

Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis

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Greedy Bastards: One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis

234 pagine
2 ore
Aug 17, 2020


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 and systems were nonexistent, many executive positions were vacant, public satisfaction was low, ethical standards were weak, and public safety union salaries and benefits were outpacing revenues, crowding out other essential city services. Simply put: San Antonio was on the verge of collapse.

Greedy Bastards tells the story of Sheryl and her new team's uphill battle to turn around San Antonio city government. She takes you 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.

Many of the issues Sheryl found in San Antonio are present in cities across the US. Packed with wins and losses, lessons learned, and pitfalls encountered, Greedy Bastards is a guidebook for any city official tasked with turning around a struggling city.
Aug 17, 2020

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Greedy Bastards - Sheryl Sculley



Copyright © 2020 Sheryl Sculley

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-5445-0844-3


To the residents of San Antonio, we accomplished so much together. I was proud to work on your behalf every day.

To our city’s first responders, thank you for the sacrifices you make to keep us safe.



Letter from the Author



1. Why Would You Take That Job?

2. First Things First to Fix a City

3. Making River City Great

4. I Wear a Uniform, Give Me Whatever I Ask For

5. Caught in the Crosshairs

6. The Evergreen Lawsuit

7. Police Mediation in Austin

8. Planning for Succession: The Right People in the Right Seats



Further Reading


About the Author


Letter from the Author

We Plan, the Virus Laughs

April 19, 2020

San Antonio, Texas

Dear Reader,

It’s mid-April in 2020 as I write you this note. By the time you’re reading it, at least four months will have passed, though Greedy Bastards was originally slated for release exactly one month from today. I’ve had that publication date, May 19, 2020, on my calendar for ages.

Then in March, COVID-19 consumed our country and the world. Life as we knew it paused. That meant a giant shift in how I’d hoped to tell you this story.

You see, from the start I was dug-in on making this book as timely as possible. The events of its final pages hadn’t even played out when I started writing, but I was committed to having the book ready to publish the moment the fire union arbitration was decided.

To make that happen, I developed a plan and established deadlines for myself, just as I’ve done with everything else in my professional life. I signed a contract with a publisher just after serving my final days in city hall. On the heels of my April 2019 retirement, I started writing. Throughout the summer and fall I worked, meeting every deadline along the way, and after the first of the year I headed into revisions. I penned an epilogue to the manuscript in February, when the arbitration decision finally came down. Everything was falling into place.

What I didn’t plan for, though, was a pandemic.

In early March, as I was sending my manuscript off for its final proofreading round, the novel coronavirus had already engulfed China, Italy, and Spain, and begun its attack on the United States. Now it’s April, and I’m proud to be holding my ready-for-the-presses book in-hand. Around me, though, our country is on lockdown. So we’re delaying the release of Greedy Bastards, for several reasons.

First and foremost, the public’s focus is on avoiding this cruel virus, treating those who are infected, and supporting our communities through its reign. That’s as it should be.

Second, social distancing requirements and travel restrictions mean book launch events—readings, signing parties, speaking engagements, media interviews—cannot go on as scheduled.

Third, there’s the elephant in the room: this book’s title.

Front-Line Workers are Heroes

I’ve preserved the original introduction to this book. In it, I clarify that the phrase greedy bastards isn’t one I coined. Rather, it’s borrowed from the president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, who uttered it in a video to accuse me of portraying the association’s membership as such. I didn’t. And by the time you’ve finished reading this book, you’ll know that I never would. I respect our city’s first responders. Still, with the rise of COVID-19, I worry about this title being misconstrued during this pandemic.

More than ever, I feel in awe of front-line workers as a whole. I’m reading the same news reports you are: stories about community members putting their own health at risk in service to their neighbors. Some are dying in the process. We are indebted to so many, including: healthcare workers, pharmacists, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, first responders, farmers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, delivery people, trash collectors, childcare providers, food pantry workers, local government leaders, and others who are keeping our communities going. Essential workers have emerged as the heroes of this crisis.

And of course there are our nation’s teachers; parents of school-age children tell me they’ve never appreciated educators more than in this moment. Our consciousness as a whole seems to have been raised surrounding the labor, dedication, creativity, and talent required of teachers. After this crisis, perhaps these indispensable professionals will finally receive the respect (and remuneration) they deserve.

A Timely Message, After All

While observing our city’s stay-at-home order, I’ve had lots of time to think about how this experience will alter the future of our public sector. In doing so, I’ve realized there’s a final reason this publishing delay makes sense: it turns out my story is growing more relevant, not less, as time goes on.

Because, even as we all dream of a post-COVID-19 world, we’re realizing it can’t look like the old one. We can’t go back to business as usual.

Cities will need to deeply examine their organizations, deciding what changes they’ll make to address the challenges and opportunities that this crisis has highlighted. The issues are many. Front-line workers must be better supported. Too many Americans lack a proper safety net. Remote work is more practical than we believed. The digital divide is untenable when 25 percent of students are unreachable during distance learning, in some districts. The need to address health care costs, and consider untying insurance from employment, is no longer debatable.

To address the issues I’ve noted, amidst unprecedented financial losses, it will be more important than ever to take an unsentimental look at old business models.

That’s precisely why my team and I decided to update our unsustainable police and fire union agreements. And because we did, San Antonio will spend $150 million less during the five years the new contracts cover. That’ll mean a lot to a city projecting hundreds of millions in lost revenue due to COVID-19.

The concept of examining the sacred cows in city hall goes way beyond updating union contracts. Yes, changing those earned us headlines. But I oversaw the update of countless legacy processes as San Antonio’s city manager, such as towing outsourcing, trash collection, early-intervention providers, construction delivery methods, and many more.

If we want America’s cities to be ready to address the problems its residents face now—and those future challenges we’ll never see coming—we can’t be afraid to examine old business models.

And, spoiler alert, that is the actual moral of the story you’re about to read.

It’s not that unions are evil (they’re not) or that I believe police officers or firefighters to be greedy (I don’t). Nor is it that all legacy solutions are inherently ineffective. Instead it’s that we mustn’t consider a business model permanent just because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Nothing can be permanent if we want our cities to keep up with citizens’ needs against a backdrop of unrelenting change.

In the four months between today and my book’s new publication date, I’m sure even more facets of everyday life will have changed. That truth, however, will not have.

Read in good health,

Sheryl Sculley



By Phil Hardberger

This useful autobiographical book chronicles the career of Sheryl Sculley, the best city manager in America. Hers has been a life of unblemished triumphs, victorious competitions and remarkable achievements. But the last part of her career was consumed with a six-year struggle against the demands of San Antonio’s fire and police unions, which threatened to bankrupt San Antonio, perhaps by 2031.

Most of the negative elements of America came into play—anti-feminism, class warfare, vicious, negative television advertising, chauvinism, etc. Both the city and the unions had their wins and losses, and a snapshot of any particular day might yield differing opinions about who is winning. The citizens of San Antonio swayed back and forth, but mostly wanted it to be over with. The courts were inconsistent, and unhappy to be entangled in a dispute where there were many preexisting political loyalties. The Supreme Court of Texas opted out altogether, refusing to hear the matter.

Unions across the nation followed these proceedings with great interest. They, too, had fights to win to get such rich benefits. The issues became, unwittingly, a national referendum.

Sheryl, accustomed to being on the victor’s podium, stepped down into the swirling dust and blood of the battlefield to save the modern City of San Antonio against a future bankruptcy. The unions put her into their crosshairs. She became the enemy. Anything that could be used against her was used, whether it was true or false. This book is the story of the struggle. And the struggle makes the book rise far beyond simply a handbook for city managers. It has more ups and downs than an Alabama-Ohio State football game. And far more repercussions for growing, as well as failing, American cities.

The book sets out the gist of the conflict. The city and the fire and police unions entered into a contract in 1988. In addition to the very generous wages, it also provided for free medical services for the first responder, and all of his/her dependents. Almost everything was free: no premiums were required at all from the uniformed employee or their dependents regardless of what medical problems they had, or when they started. The deal was sweetened even more by the city providing free legal reimbursements for many infractions of the law or civil actions, such as DWIs, divorces, spousal and child abuse, child custody battles, etc. The city paid regardless of the right or wrong of the situation.

The 1988 contract cost the city more and more as the medical and drug costs skyrocketed. It became a famous union contract, the envy of unions everywhere. Sheryl, who has the financial eye of an IRS tax collector, recognized these benefits had to be revised before the city bankrupted itself. She explained the situation to the union leadership, asking for their help. A resounding No! left no doubt of the union’s position. They demanded a pay raise and free medical benefits to continue. If the city couldn’t afford it, the unions said taxes could be raised to make sure there would be ample funds available. The disagreement caused a six-year war of empty discussion. The police union reluctantly came to the meetings but did eventually get to an agreed contract. The fire union refused to come to the bargaining table and negotiate.

Seasons came and went. Summer became winter, and winter turned into summer and the cycle began again. It was San Antonio’s version of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. The 1988 contract had also given the parties a ten-year evergreen policy to work out their differences. It was beginning to look like ten years would not be enough. Opposing lawyers attended sessions, argued and shouted at each other, went back to the office, wrote out their bills and retired until tomorrow. The unions, having worn out much of the goodwill they had earned through the years, ran vicious television ads against Sheryl designed to make people hate her. Unflattering photographs were dug out and she was described in terms that would make a platoon of Navy SEALs blush. Very imaginative, very hurtful. The veneer of graciousness, for which San Antonio is known, wore thin.

Still there were bright spots where humanity and dignity came through. The working firefighters, apart from their union leaders, kept putting out fires, rescuing overly adventurous cats, and taking care of injured car wreck victims. The police, apart from their union leaders, faced down their own fears and bravely kept the peace, sometimes losing their lives in doing so. And Sheryl kept us the best managed city in America, getting San Antonio triple-A ratings from all three national bond rating agencies. No other large city has been able to achieve that. She raised the minimum wage for all city employees to $15 an hour and made them proud of their work. When the going was hot, and critics numerous, people stood and applauded when she entered the room. They still do.

But, you ask, how will this all end? What was the end of the struggle? Was it worth it? For those inquiring souls, I suggest you read the book.

Phil Hardberger

Mayor of San Antonio




I can’t take credit for my book’s title. The president of the local police union inspired it, back when writing a book was just an item on my to-do-once-I-retire list.

The year was 2014, and I was serving as the city manager of San Antonio, Texas—one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Back then I managed a $2.3 billion budget and thousands of employees, some of them governed by collective bargaining agreements. At the time, my team and I were guiding the city through the messy process of updating those agreements, which triggered a campaign of nasty attack ads against me.

These ads attempted to cast me in the role of villain for asking union members to start paying health insurance premiums for their children and spouses.

That part of the story was true: the city was asking police officers to start contributing to the cost of their families’ health insurance.

To officers, this felt like a big change because it was the first time they’d been asked to participate in the cost of their health insurance. Nationally, of course, it’s the norm. Most workers who

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