City parks director forced out


   By Todd Bensman

   June 2008

   Parks and Recreation Department Director Malcolm Matthews resigned abruptly Friday after nearly two weeks of public controversy stemming from a San Antonio Express-News report that showcased mismanagement of playground safety inspections and repair.


   City Manager Sheryl Sculley sought and obtained Matthews’ resignation, the Express-News reported, but refused to acknowledge any particular reason, telling the newspaper only that the move was based on the 10-year director’s “overall performance.” Matthews’ personnel records for the past two years, however, do not indicate that his job was in any jeopardy. And as recently as February, Sculley indicated she was so pleased with the parks director’s performance that she awarded him a $1,000 bonus.


   The resignation came amid unusually sustained public criticism of Sculley and other top city leaders for whatever roles they played in suppressing a planned audit of the park department’s playground safety inspections. The April move to kill that audit also led city officials, among them council members, to force city auditor’s resignation. The audit idea dissipated.


   A June 8 Express-News report replicating the doomed audit found that, had city leaders not intervened, the public would have learned dozens playgrounds had fallen into dangerous disrepair because no regular inspections have been conducted for years. The news report also found that Matthews testified at a critical council subcommittee hearing that annual inspections were being conducted, a claim that turned out to be untrue.


   Throughout the ensuing public outcry, Sculley, Mayor Hardberger and top council leaders have steadfastly refused to acknowledge any misstep and have worked hard to downplay playground safety or repair program problems.


   In pushing for the Matthews resignation, Sculley comes as close as she ever has to acknowledging playground safety management problems. But instead, she named other unrelated controversies in parks programs in which Matthews played no central role.


   Matthews, 52, had did not reply to interview requests at his Encino Park area home.

  

  Records of Matthews' executive performance reviews over the last few years defy the city manager’s explanation for seeking the Matthews resignation. The documents don't indicate any serious or unusual problems and certainly make no mention of past controversies. Quite the contrary.


For instance, his 2007 executive perfomance evaluation came out about average, or a little above average, with most categories being checked "usually meets expectations." Some indicate "often meets expectations."

His 2006 performance evaluation was better. Most categories were checked "often meets expectations."


    Nowhere does his last evaluation indicate that he was in any danger.


     Again, quite the contrary. In a memo from Sculley dated Feb. 22, in which she crosses out "Dear Mr Matthews" and replaces it with Dear "Malcolm," Sculley granted the department head a $1,000 performance award "in recognition of your performance assessment based on goals and objectives outlined in your FY 2007...plan and your overall executive performance."


     Matthews’ resignation agreement offers unusually generous terms allowing for full pay and benefits for the next seven months, although accrued leave time accounts for several months of that time.


     In exchange, Matthews agreed to an unusual confidentiality clause that bans him from discussing any of the circumstances that led to his resignation. He also is not allowed to publicly “denigrate” the city or officials, according to a copy of his resignation package.