The City of San Antonio has funded SA2020, a community goal-setting and data-tracking nonprofit, since 2014 — but residents won’t find a line item for the organization in the proposed $3.7 billion 2024 budget.
City officials have shifted its typical $150,000 annual investment in the nonprofit toward a new data position within its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA) Office, an effort to improve in-house data analysis.
While city officials made clear the budgetary decision wasn’t punitive, the move hints at a fraying in the decade-old relationship at the same time SA2020 is positioning itself as a watchdog over how the city presents data and addresses inequities.
After word spread that the city’s proposed budget does not include funding for the nonprofit, SA2020 released a scathing assessment of the budget, without mentioning its own lack of inclusion.
“We do not oppose not being included in the budget,” SA2020 Executive Director Kiran Kaur Bains said. “But we are very concerned that they’re walking away from showing any type of commitment to shared goals.”
City Council is slated to make final changes to the budget and adopt it on Sept. 14.
SA2020’s budget assessment released Thursday criticized the city’s use — or misuse — of data, how it measures success and a perceived lack of departmental coordination. The city will meet or exceed 68% of its own performance goals, a D+, for this fiscal year, according to the assessment.
The assessment makes five recommendations, labeled a “call to action,” to improve how the city tracks its performance, including improving performance metrics for every department, consistent data tracking, and data sharing across departments.
It’s the first time SA2020 has publicly released a formal report about the city’s annual budget, further illustrating the disintegrating partnership between the municipal government and nonprofit, which first began in 2010 as a community engagement initiative under then-Mayor Julián Castro.
SA2020, which became a nonprofit entity outside of the city organization in 2012, keeps tabs on more than 50 different metrics related to life in San Antonio: areas including education, environment and poverty. Its mission is to align community and governmental partners toward improving those metrics by providing consulting services to those organizations and producing annual progress reports.
Bains, who took over as executive director of the nonprofit in 2021, said the abrupt cutoff of city funding is likely politically motivated.
“I do believe it has to do with SA2020, in recent years, being very outspoken about racial equity and police accountability,” Bains told the San Antonio Report.
The budget assessment was “motivated in part by the city publicly deciding to devalue our work,” she said, but it also contains some of the same critiques SA2020 has already shared with the city behind the scenes.
“This is just a public version of the work that we were doing,” she said. “Being defunded … forced a more public understanding of what our relationship has been.”
Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle said removing SA2020 from the budget proposal was not intended to be a commentary on the nonprofit’s merits.
“We’re not ending a partnership, we’re not declaring that SA2020’s work isn’t important — we still remain very much a partner,” Coyle said, adding that the city will continue to provide SA2020 with data. “The question is the return on investment of paying them to present our numbers, when we have a team that can do a more sophisticated, more meaningful, more nimble analysis in-house.”
SA2020’s report “was not provided to the city or done in coordination with our budget process, which began in April,” said Coyle, who said he had not read through the assessment as of Friday afternoon.
SA2020’s history and growth
The city has invested about $1.5 million in SA2020 through its budget process over the years, starting with a $100,000 allocation in the 2014 budget, which under Castro’s leadership centered funding around community goals laid out in the SA2020 initiative.
As SA2020 prepared for the new decade, it engaged nearly 12,300 residents through public meetings and a survey to take part in reaffirming the vision for San Antonio in 2030. After 2020, it launched its new brand and community vision for 2030.
“The reason why we didn’t change the name of our organization is because, yes, the year 2020 happens to be when the original community vision was scheduled for but it also happens to be very convenient since 20/20 is a clear vision,” Bains said.
Metrics from more than 30 different sources have been added to SA2020’s dashboard and fine-tuned over the years, but the city has always been a key partner and source of data, she said.
The city’s contribution makes up for about 20% of SA2020’s nearly $530,000 annual budget.
For fiscal year 2024, SA2020 requested $175,000 from the city to continue updating its responsive data dashboard, providing insight on success and challenges related to metrics as well as “data-informed, targeted calls to action for institutions and individuals.”
The request was not unlike previous contracts approved by the city, but Kiran said she was not entirely surprised it was rejected. SA2020 was left out of the draft 2022 budget as well.
Bains, who had taken over the organization just six months prior during the coronavirus pandemic, said she lobbied city administration and council members to get back in the budget in 2022. “We would have dissolved. …. That’s why it was a very different kind of mobilization,” compared to this year’s approach.
Having that experience led SA2020 to start diversifying its funding sources to include more grants, donations and consulting fees, she said, setting up a different situation for 2024.
“We’ve long known that we need to change our funding model because … the public institutions that we’re seeking to hold accountable can’t be also funders,” Bains said. “That’s just unsustainable.”
The nonprofit supported two different police reform measures in recent years that challenged the city’s status quo.
Proposition B, which would have stripped the union of its power to collectively bargain for its contract was defeated in May 2021 with 51% of the vote against it. Earlier this year SA2020 supported Proposition A, which — among other reforms — aimed to expand the police’s cite-and-release policy. That measure failed decisively on May 6, with 72% of voters rejecting it.
In June 2021, Bains penned an op-ed criticizing a survey used to measure resident satisfaction with and expectations of the San Antonio Police Department.
“We don’t want an antagonistic [or] hostile relationship with city government,” Bains said. “We do want a meaningful partnership.”
Preparing the 2024 budget
Both Coyle and Mayor Ron Nirenberg rejected the notion of any political reasons behind the funding cutoff.
“I think it’s important for the city to respect the independence and the right of individual citizens and entities to have their own political views,” Nirenberg said. “That shouldn’t get in the way of providing services to the city in the areas that they’re capable of doing.”
A host of nonprofits that receive city funding have battled the city in some way. After the city cut its funding in 1997, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center filed a lawsuit for violating free speech and equal protection rights by discontinuing the nonprofit’s funding. The center won the lawsuit in 2001 and continues to receive public funding, including a proposed $391,844 in 2024.
“We have to exist to take and accept criticism, that shouldn’t be a factor in funding decisions,” said Nirenberg, who is an SA2020 ambassador and was a facilitator at its first meeting in 2010.
Coyle didn’t rule out partnering with SA2020 on future initiatives, including through possible city contracts.
“SA2020 is more than welcome, obviously, to continue … bidding for work that is in their wheelhouse,” he said.
In early March 2020, he and several council members said the community vision outlined by SA2020 should continue to play a role in how the city allocates spending.
And that hasn’t changed, Nirenberg said.
“We need to be moving the needle on a number of important community indicators that were first identified through the SA2020 visioning process,” he said. “In terms of scope of work, what they’re being asked to do by the city for that money is now being done through DEIA.”
This year, the city administration was looking for a higher return on investment, Coyle said. “We’re looking to be the best stewards of the resources, and it’s really that simple.”
Coyle also recalls the budget conversations that took place between the city and SA2020 in 2021.
“We recommended a series of opportunities to enhance our partnership,” he said, and they were added into the SA2020’s most recent contracts as such — separate from the outlined “deliverables.” Those enhancements included broad agreements to promote city services, present research and engage with city departments throughout the year.
The city and the nonprofit disagree about whether SA2020 lived up to its end of those programmatic requests.
The proposed new data analyst within the DEIA Office won’t replace the community-wide data collection and analysis SA2020 is doing, but it will allow the city to have a “deeper level of insight” into how to better deliver services to the community, DEIA Director Jennifer Mata said.
Each year, city department heads use a “budgeting for equity tool” that asks them where diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility intersect with the work they do and how the DEIA Office can support that, Mata said.
“We do need to measure these initiatives so that we can start to track where it is that that we’re going and where we need to offer more support,” she said. “And so the next logical step for us was to have this data person.”
What happens now
Nirenberg and council members who spoke to the San Antonio Report last week said they support SA2020 and find its work valuable — often printing out information from its website and citing data from its dashboard from the dais.
But it’s unclear if SA2020 has a champion on the dais that would push for funding now before the budget is finalized.
“I always use [SA2020 data],” Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4). “I send people there all the time — my staff always uses it.”
“It’s unfair to just cut off an organization like that,” Rocha Garcia said, suggesting that the council could consider phasing out funding instead. SA2020 provides “a good service to the community,” she said.
But she also has other priorities in the budget, namely increasing funding for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of South Texas.
“SA2020 has been an extremely valuable partner and I’m not quite sure how the city intends to fill the gap of that partnership,” said Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2). “I don’t think a single department can do that right now.”
Since it’s unclear that SA2020 needs city funding, McKee-Rodriguez said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I want to make sure that SA2020 is able to continue producing work at the quality and quantity that they have been doing — and even more,” he said. “I look forward to being a partner with them … whether that means during this budget season, or if it’s after.”