City Manager Takes The Stage While Mayoral Race Rages On
Photos by: GA Media Media Productions.
April 12, 2019 - Brick at Blue Star District (Southtown SA)
By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, San Antonio Sentinel
While throngs of Nirenberg and Brockhouse supporters filed into downtown’s Travis Park Church to support their candidate for mayor, another group of engaged citizens gathered at Brick at Blue Star for SA2020’s meetup with City Manager Eric Walsh. Although many view the mayor as the more visual figurehead for the city of San Antonio, a case can be made for the City Manager’s job being the single most important position within our city due to our Council-Manager form of Government. This form of government is defined as “a representative system that combines strong political leadership of elected officials with the strong, professional experience of a trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services.”
Tuesday night’s event was put on by SA 2020, an organization focused on reporting community indicators, informing and activating the public, and aligning efforts toward the community’s goals. Led by President and CEO, Molly Cox, the organization publishes the SA 2020 Impact Report each year, reporting on the progress the city is making in several key areas of growth.
The event was two-fold and consisted first of a routine interview with new City Manager Eric Walsh, who took the reins from Sheryl Sculley on March 1, 2019 when he was appointed by Mayor Nirenberg and the City Council. Having worked with the city for twenty four years prior to his appointment, Walsh “oversees 13,000 employees, manages an annual operating and capital budget of $2.8 billion and serves 1.5 million residents.” At this event, he attempted to explain how this complex process works using an interactive community-engagement system put together by SA 2020. Participants were segmented into the three runoff districts as well as the mayor’s position and asked to divide up the yearly budget (consisting of play money handed out at the beginning of the event) to four various city departments including: Economic Development, Housing and Neighborhood Services, Human Services, the Health Department and Transportation & Capital Improvements (TCI).
Fiscal Year 2019 Budget: $2.8 Billion
Molly Cox commented on this unique approach to explaining the city budget. “So we thought it would be important, particularly right now as we’re in a runoff for city council for people to understand how our city budget is built, how we prioritize things in a $2.8 billion budget,” stated Cox. “So we asked people to come out and we split them up into our runoff districts, 2, 4, 6, and our mayor, gave them SA 2020 bucks, introduced them to some city departments that are impacting very clearly some complex community challenges in our city, and then talked with Eric (Walsh) about what it means to build a budget and have the city council and mayor prioritize it.”
The majority of Cox’s discussion with Walsh centered around the city budget and what the city is doing to advance equity in San Antonio. The City Manager gave a rundown of the 2019 Fiscal Year budget of $2.8 Billion and described how it’s divided up into restricted funds, a capital program, and a general fund. (For a full rundown of the budget see our previous article where the city council budget was approved at the past A-Session.) Walsh stated “there may be a different need” on different parts of town and that the city is explicitly dedicated to advancing equity in any way possible.
Also asked by Cox were questions about the term limits imposed upon future City Managers in San Antonio as well as if Walsh believed that four-year terms would help the council make more meaningful change. He replied that he wasn’t aware of any other cities that imposed a cap on a city manager’s terms or salary. He also stated that it’s not affecting the city now, “but fifteen years from now, when we’re recruiting the next police chief or city engineer, I mean salaries change, and as an organization, we want the best working for our city.”
Results of Mock Budget Spending Among Attendees
After Cox and Walsh talked a bit more, she dispersed the crowds and sent them out to decide how they would like to invest their mock funds and, more specifically, which departments they would fund more than others if they were in either of the four runoff positions or the mayoral position. After about twenty minutes of attendees going from table to table before deciding where to place their monies, Cox gathered the tally and announced how the departments would be funded if this were an actual city budget. By far, those in attendance placed a higher emphasis on the need for funding towards the Department of Transportation and Capital Improvements. “Infrastructure sort of rises to the top and I think if you can’t get to your job or your school or your health provider safely, then that’s a problem,” stated Cox.