The City of San Antonio has initiated an audit process for the troubled Tricentennial Commission, Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras said Tuesday, and that effort will be independent from the rededicated focus on making the city’s yearlong 300th anniversary in 2018 a “once-in-a-lifetime” celebration.

“[I’m going to] roll up my sleeves,” Contreras told City Council committee members tasked with reviewing the commission’s progress. Contreras, who still serves as assistant city manager, took the helm of the commission exactly one week ago after Edward Benavides stepped down as chief executive officer amid community and Council concerns about fundraising and the commission’s handling of several contracts.

The commission is now less than $2.9 million away from its fundraising goal, thanks to reduced costs associated with the New Year’s Eve party, Contreras said, adding that he’s confident that sum can be raised throughout 2018.

After fielding several questions about commission transparency and structure, he assured the committee, chaired by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), that he would provide the detailed budget and staff reports it had requested months ago.

“Let’s just get to it,” Treviño said, calling on his colleagues to not get sidetracked from the end goal. “We’re at a critical moment in our city’s history, and we’re all in it together.”

A more robust website that better outlines the Tricentennial mission statement will launch in mid-December, Contreras said. The commission brought on additional team members to “help them do something that’s something we can be proud of,” he added.

But Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) isn’t convinced that the City will follow through on determining the root cause of the Tricentennial’s mismanagement.

“What I just witnessed had to be the best ‘City Hall two-step’ I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Brockhouse said after Contreras’ brief presentation to the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee.

Brockhouse said he was expecting a more detailed explanation and update on how the Tricentennial was going to address what one commission member called “stumbles” that have already occurred.

“You have to fix what’s wrong with it and acknowledge it,” Brockhouse said. “Nobody wants to see this fall flat on its face and not be successful.”

Contreras gave an overview of the contracts that the commission awarded through the City’s competitive bid process and those granted through other processes – all of which will be reviewed during the audit.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) asks questions regarding the future of Maverick Plaza.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) questions the accountability of the Tricentennial Commission. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Brockhouse said the City should “consider canceling the KSAT contract,” which the San Antonio Express-News found was awarded under suspicious circumstances.

Legal implications of such a move would need to be discussed in private, executive sessions with City Council, City Attorney Andy Segovia said.

“I would never recommend that we hide something improper,” Contreras said, adding that he has looked through hundreds of emails and documents regarding the Tricentennial. “But I haven’t seen anything that should give anybody any concern.”

Tricentennial Budget Update

About 87 percent of the total $21.7 million Tricentennial budget has been collected through City, County, in-kind, and private contributions. That budget includes salaries, promotional material, event planning, and more.

The original budget was $22.5 million, but the costs for the New Year’s Eve celebration – which will feature REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, and The Last Bandoleros – came in lower than expected, Contreras said, saving $400,000. The “Ignite 300” event, which was to be a premier Tricentennial fundraiser the same night, will instead be an invite-only event. A sponsor paid $400,000 to take over the event’s planning and execution, Contreras explained.

The commission set it sights on $10.3 million from private donations needed for various programming throughout the year. It now needs to raise $2.9 million.

“With the Tricentennial 41 days away, this was not just an update,” Treviño stated in an email after the meeting. “It was a work session where this committee, City staff, and Tricentennial Commission members rolled up their sleeves and took an honest, thoughtful look at the future and impact of the Tricentennial.”

This story was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org