In the latest in a series of leadership changes to the San Antonio Tricentennial Commission, Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Thursday nominated Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and former Northside Independent School District Superintendent John Folks as co-chairs on the commission.

In a statement announcing the nominations, Nirenberg said he has asked the Tricentennial Commission to elect Teniente-Matson as its president once the two are approved by City Council.

“I am pleased that Cynthia Teniente-Matson and John Folks are willing to bring their considerable leadership talents to the forefront by agreeing to become Co-Chairs of the Commission,” Nirenberg said in a statement.

He praised Teniente-Matson and Folks for both having “impressive experience as highly effective leaders of large organizations” – notable given recent turbulence over the commission’s leadership and planning strategies.

Teniente-Matson and Folks will replace local hotel executive Robert Thrailkill and San Antonio Museum of Art Director Katie Luber, both appointed to the commission by former Mayor Ivy Taylor.

Teniente-Matson, a native San Antonian, came to TAMU-SA in 2015 from California State University Fresno, where she was vice president for administration and chief financial officer. She is the second president in TAMU-SA’s history.

Former Northside Independent School District Superintendent John Folks

Folks retired from NISD in 2012 after leading the district for 10 years. He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Nirenberg also praised Thrailkill and Luber, noting that they will continue as special advisers to the commission’s executive director, a position currently held by interim CEO Carlos Contreras. The mayor thanked them both for “playing significant roles in making the Tricentennial a success for the city.”

The proposed leadership changes come less than one month before the Tricentennial officially launches on New Year’s Eve.

Fundraising troubles, struggles over the New Year’s Eve party and entertainment, and several resignations, including that of former CEO Edward Benavides, have led the news recently about the year-long celebration. Benavides stepped down Nov. 13 following concerns about lackluster fundraising and after a report by the San Antonio Express-News about an exclusive media contract with broadcast TV station KSAT, where his brother reportedly works as an executive producer.

Nirenberg recently told a Rivard Report staffer he wanted to stem the “drip drip drip” of negative news about the Tricentennial by moving quickly to reshape the commission’s leadership and staff.

On Thursday, he reiterated that approach.

“I think we’ve identified some gaps through the last several months. The turbulence that’s been highlighted has allowed us to improve the process and improve the structure that’s going to be overseeing it,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report at a climate action plan kickoff event at the UTSA Downtown Campus.

“This is not going to alter any plans or our course of action. What it does is allow us to address those gaps. Not only are we providing great continuity for the great work that they’ve done, but also we’re bringing in some very experienced perspectives to handling that system of governance.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg makes an announcement regarding the Tricentennial at the Hilton Palacio del Rio.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg makes an announcement regarding the New Year’s Eve Tricentennial event at the Hilton Palacio del Rio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

He particularly praised Teniente-Matson for her financial prowess. “We expect more robust discussion of future contracts, and certainly Cynthia’s experience as a CFO will bring that to us.

Reached through a spokeswoman, Teniente-Matson declined to comment on her nomination.

When reached by phone Thursday evening, Folks said he believes Nirenberg wants him on the commission “to be a person who would be a steady hand” because of his experience handling contracts.

What I told  [Nirenberg and Contreras] was, I would come onto the board and listen and hear what’s been done and give what input I could on the decisions that need to be made. With some of the issues they’ve been confronted with, I hope I can help with the clarification of those things.”

When contacted before Nirenberg’s announcement Thursday, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he had not heard directly from the mayor as of midday Thursday. “I would have expected him to call, but I think it got out before he could say anything himself.”

Nirenberg said he spoke with Wolff later on Thursday and that they meet on a weekly basis. “Unfortunately we can’t control, sometimes, the information that dribbles out … but it was my full intention as we have stayed together on this process that we’re going to do that in this situation and beyond that. We’re working together on this, and I think that’s also important.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Wolff said Bexar County is a minority partner with the City on Tricentennial planning and leadership, and that he supports Nirenberg’s replacement of Luber and Thrailkill. “I would not second-guess him on it. I support his decision.”

Thrailkill, vice president of operations for Zachry Hospitality and general manager of the Hilton Palacio del Rio and Staybridge Suites/Convention Center, wrote in an email to the Rivard Report that, “It was time for me to transition out.”

“My company is working on several projects that are coming to fruition in 2018,” Thrailkill wrote. “The foundation for the activities related to the Tricentennial is in place.

“It was an honor to be part of the commission, I have met a great number of people in the process, which I enjoyed immensely,” he wrote in the email. “I am very confident that 2018 will be a year that will showcase the very best of our community.”

In an email to the Rivard Report, Luber said she “offered my resignation to Mayor Nirenberg after his election in June,” and that, “Today he accepted.”

Luber was appointed to the board two-and-a-half years ago “to help envision the citywide celebration,” she said, adding that she “will continue to work toward its success.”

Wolff said it is unfortunate that controversies surrounding Tricentennial planning have overshadowed all the good work being done.

“There’s not been any recognition – there are 700 different organizations that are putting on events,” he said.

“It’s all been focused on the New Year’s Eve thing, and I could care less,” Wolff added, referring to complaints about the hiring of boomer bands REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar as headliners.

“We’ve lost ourselves in the minutia,” he said. “The big part of it is, we’re going to have a great celebration next year. When the public sees all the events, I think they’re going to be pleased.”

Nirenberg offered a similar take on the changes.

“I’m excited. There’s great work done and the plans that have been put in front of the public at the launch event have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting the year started and continuing to build on the other plans that have not gotten as much attention.”

Rivard Report staffers Nicholas Frank, Shari Biediger, and Wendy Lane Cook contributed to this report. This article was originally published on Dec.7, 2017. 

Beth Frerking is the former editor-in-chief of the Rivard Report.

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.