SAN ANTONIAN OF THE YEAR
San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez tells the story of holding a meeting with city department heads when he was a member of City Council in the early 2000s, and seeing one of them fall asleep, right in the middle of the meeting. Its a sure bet that after Sheryl Sculley took over as City Manager in 2005, there were no department heads sleeping during meetings, and the City of San Antonio hasn't slept during that time, either.
It is hard to explain to a newcomer how different, in nearly every respect, the San Antonio of today is from the San Antonio that Sculley inherited when she came here from Phoenix 13 years ago. From a sleepy tourist and military town, the San Antonio that stands on the cusp of 2019 today is a muscular international metropolis, stepping into the lead in the most critical industries of the future from, cyber security to advanced medicine. Along with those changes has come staggering adjustments in the pace of our lives, as housing prices rise, incomes increase, young graduates for the first time see options for a strong future in their home town, as new vocations arise which operate at an entirely new rhythm, bringing a new and different culture to some neighborhoods and new challenges to others. In recognition of her masterful management of decades of evolution over a scant 13 years, Sheryl Sculley is the 2018 San Antonian of the Year.
13 years is the blink of an eye in a city which in 2018 marked its 300th birthday, but it is very much the time when San Antonio changed forever. There are few if any leaders, from Bryan Callaghan to Maury Maverick to Henry Cisneros, who have had such a transformational impact on this city than Sheryl Sculley, which, during her tenure, became the fastest growing city in America.
Its easy to have vision, it is a lot more challenging to be the person who is in charge, and accountable, for implementing that vision. That's what Sheryl Sculley has managed to do seamlessly through four mayors and nearly fifty members of council. From the creation of the Haven For Hope during the activist leadership of Phil Hardberger to the 'Decade of Downtown' during the big vision years of Julian Castro, it was Sculley who had to budget the funding, and provide the motivation, for projects like the breathtaking development of the Pearl complex from a crumbling industrial ruin to an internationally known work and leisure destination. As Warren Buffet once said, 'somebody is sitting in the shade today because a person with vision decades ago planted a tree.' Sculley planted trees of development which will bloom in San Antonio for the next 300 years.
Being the person who gets it done, instead of the person who gets the credit, can be challenging, and can make you enemies, and Sculley had her share. A vindictive, backward-looking campaign by the firefighters union leaves the city in a tough spot as it tries to find a successor as City Manager, and a cap on the salary the person can make and the length of time they can stay in the job is inexplicable for a person who is essentially the CEO of our city government. But judging from the hasty time frame being cobbled togehter by City Council, there appears to be a very good chance that her successor will come from the ranks of department heads and deputies whom she recruited, trained, and prepared for success.
Which means Sculley's blueprint for the growth of a great American 21st Century will outlive her tenure, and will help San Antonio begin its second tricentennial. Failure is most definitely an option, as we see clearly in once great, now troubled, cities across the country. The arc of the urban future is still very much unknown. But thanks to 13 years of leadership which looked over the horizon every day, there are few cities in America today which are better positioned for the challenges, and the opportunities, which lie ahead.
PHOTO: Courtesy of San Antonio Government and Public Affairs Department
TWO WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE:
"The Championship City"
San Antonio has been chasing the holy grail of additional pro sports franchises for decades, with little success. Despite our booming economic power and population, the NFL still sees San Antonio as a one night stand, there's scant interest in even Triple-A baseball, and our chances of landing Major League Soccer have apparently been co-opted by Austin. So what's a city with major league aspirations to do?
Under the leadership of San Antonio Sports, San Antonio is charging ahead on an alternative, and even potentially more lucrative path. From the growth of the Alamo Bowl to the Texas Open, San Antonio has successfully leverated its facilities, its weather, and its history in welcoming visitors into becoming a destination for championship events. That experience in 2018 resulted in what has been described as the most succssful Men's Final Four ever.
At San Antonio Sports, Senior Vice President Jenny Carnes was the driving force behind San Antonio’s selection for the 2018 Men’s final four, welcoming some 80,000 visitors, and which had an $185 million economic impact. She was the Local Organizing Committee head who made the event happen. But its impact goes much deeper than that. At a time when there are gripes about not getting the NFL and not getting the MLS, Carnes has shaped San Antonio into “Championship City.”
The people who run these mega-events have gone for mega-stadiums, like the Cowboys stadium. Carnes has sold the city on hospitality, warmth, walkability and a party atmosphere. Not only did she help San Antonio win the 2018 Final Four, we’ve been awarded another men’s championship and another women’s championship that will keep us in the spotlight well into the coming decade. This will have ripple effects as San Antonio bids on any number of high profile events from sports to politics and beyond. And the University of the Incarnate Word Hall of Famer is leading a new generation of women leaders in sports. The men's college basketball championship was also led by women in Phoenix and Minneapolis
"Christianity in the Art of Service"
One of the biggest stories of the year was the migrant crisis, and there are few in Texas who did as much to shape the relief efforts as the head of Catholic Charities in San Antonio.
Antonio Fernandez led a social service agency that was one of four nationwide, helping those released by ICE find their footing in America as they bid for asylum. He has taken politics out of a political situation. And at a time when immigration has become a polarizing issue, he’s humanized undocumented migrants.
Thousands of migrants came in contact with volunteers from Catholic Charities of San Antonio. Fernandez also led a delegation to El Paso, helping relief agencies in that city gear up for an expected migrant caravan. He did all of this while taking slings and arrows from anti-immigrant groups, who felt their work enticed migrants to Texas. He took on the cause of helping his fellow man with love and respect, always asking what else could be done.