A year and half after an embezzlement scandal rocked Centro San Antonio, the downtown advocacy nonprofit has hired a new “outside-the-box” leader.

Matt Brown Credit: Courtesy / Centro

Matt Brown, former director of the Office of Economic Development in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the new chief executive officer and will begin work with the organization June 17, according to a news release.

“I am incredibly excited and energized about the opportunity to lead Centro San Antonio,” Brown said in a statement. “I was immediately drawn to San Antonio’s rich history and vibrant culture. It’s impossible to walk around downtown San Antonio without feeling the energy and the passion that exists for the city’s revitalized urban core and I look forward to being a part of it.”

Brown was born and raised in Los Angeles. An attorney, he attended Georgetown University and earned his law degree from Villanova University in Philadelphia. He has lived in Santa Fe since 1991.

Brown told the Rivard Report that he sees opportunity in Centro San Antonio. He said he’s good friends with NuStar President and CEO Brad Barron, who sold him on the town. “The type of work that Centro does and I think can do more of is in that world of direct impact on the community. I think it has a lot of economic development components and a lot of community development aspects. I found in my work here that that kind of work is meaningful to me,” he said.

Brown was identified from a group of 140 applicants that was then culled to 20, then to seven and finally to a pair of finalists. The finalists were asked to present their answers to questions related to San Antonio downtown revitalization to a search committee and members of the Centro board of directors, according to the release.

The finalists also met with Centro staff, City and County officials, and downtown stakeholders before the search committee unanimously selected Brown, whose wife, Sarah, is an architect, a licensed contractor and building inspector, the release said.

Centro San Antonio board Chair Trish DeBerry said Brown has consulted with Fortune 200 and Fortune 500 companies and was an executive at LeapFrog Enterprises, a California company that specializes in educational entertainment for children.

“We are thrilled that an outside-the-box candidate of Matt’s caliber applied for the position and enthusiastically accepted,” DeBerry said in a statement. “… That private sector skill set combined with his public sector experience in Santa Fe economic development was exactly what we were looking for.”

In an interview, DeBerry said Brown had done his homework.

“He blew us away when he came back for a second interview with the preparation he had done and the time he had invested in getting to know San Antonio,” she told the Rivard Report. “He’s a relationship builder. I think that is going to be big for us because we, as a board, have had to do a lot of that over the past 18 months.”

Brown, an attorney by trade, replaces Warren Wilkinson, who took over as interim CEO of the organization in March 2018 following the resignations of CEO Pat DiGiovanni in November 2017 and Chief Financial Officer Tony Piazzi in March 2018.

Centro’s former office manager and staff accountant Alicia Padilla, who had a criminal history, was terminated in early November 2017 after Centro officials discovered money had been embezzled from the organization. The amount eventually was pegged at $291,000, and she has never been arrested or charged. An investigation is ongoing.

Embezzling more than $200,000 is a first degree felony in Texas and comes with a sentence of five to 99 years in State prison. An audit later found no public money was part of the embezzlement.

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.