Several members of the Tricentennial Commission have suggested that Carlos Contreras, an assistant City manager serving as interim executive director of the commission, should take on a more permanent role in the nonprofit.
The Rivard Report asked Contreras Tuesday if he will take on the role throughout 2018.
“That remains to be seen – likely not,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of great things happening in 2018 for the Tricentennial, but I also have a lot of good projects at the City that I have been working on. … But I committed to stay [at the Tricentennial] as long as I needed to, so that’s where we are today.”
Once the commission gets through its New Year’s Eve celebration at Hemisfair in less than two weeks, it will start the process of searching for a more permanent executive director, Contreras told City Council members Tuesday during his presentation to the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee. “It’s a challenge to hire somebody for a one-year period.”
The commission could bring a local executive out of retirement or “borrow” someone for one year, he added. Its five chairs and 14 members would review applicants and approve the selection – if one is found.
Contreras’ job has been difficult, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, reminding him that the City has resources that could assist in future planning efforts.
It’s been little more than one month since Contreras stepped in to lead the effort after former director Edward Benavides resigned amid concerns of mismanagement. While Contreras focused on New Year’s Eve and steering several ships in the right direction, he’s also had to look back and help expose the previous leadership’s procedural and contractual failings.
“There is certainly an expectation that we’ll try to understand what has occurred,” he said, “and we’re doing that. I am trying to look forward as much as possible because we have to create things that are happening next year.”
While Contreras and his team must provide Council the information it requests, the City will perform an independent audit on the Tricentennial. Tricentennial and City staff will be evaluated for efficiencies and possible redundancies as the organization looks ahead throughout the rest of 2018.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) asked Contreras how much more the City is spending on the Tricentennial on top of what it originally budgeted.
Contreras said he would provide an up-to-date total for the committee as soon as it could be calculated.
“The City has put a considerable amount of resources [into the Tricentennial],” Contreras told the Rivard Report after the meeting. Since the reboot following Benavides’ resignation, the City has dedicated the Contreras’ time as well as that of his assistant, at least four other staffers, contractors, and more, to the effort.
“We also had some folks that left,” he said. “Some had contracts expire. Part of it is filling certain holes.”
Council members praised work done so far on the Tricentennial commemorative book, which should be finalized mid-January, and the new website that went live Monday evening.
“I definitely think this is a great improvement,” said Treviño, who chairs the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee.
Viagran complimented design firm Tribu for adding “movement” to the homepage. “All the pictures really help tell the story and get [people] really excited about this,” she said.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) also praised the design, but called into question the Tricentennial contract with KGBTexas, the public relations firm hired to carry out marketing and advertising.
The City had originally designed the website in-house. When it was deemed insufficient, local firm Webhead, a subcontractor for KGBTexas, was brought in to enhance and expand the site, Contreras said – which it did. Tribu was later hired to design the current version of the website.
“We paid for a product with KGB, and we didn’t get it,” Brockhouse said. “The [new] site is excellent … but I’m not understanding how they can cut one [design firm] loose and go to another.”
It wasn’t Webhead’s design that caused the need for an upgrade, Contreras said. Rather, Webhead was never given the budget to provide maintenance or updates to the former website. “Frankly, we’ve learned some lessons.”
Contreras agreed to provide Brockhouse with details about the contract with KGBTexas that were not immediately available at the meeting.
“The website was delivered. Then, because of cost-saving measures, [it] was taken back in-house [by Tricentennial staff] for maintenance,” Katie Harvey, CEO of KGBTexas, told the Rivard Report in response to Brockhouse’s comments. “Once [a website] is delivered, it’s out of our control. And that’s exactly what happened.”
The former website’s condition was largely due to lack of budget to properly maintain it, she added. “Saying it wasn’t delivered is completely inaccurate and false.”
The new website budget has designated funds for maintenance, given the multiple updates expected throughout 2018 and beyond. “This is not intended to be the final product,” Contreras said.
As assistant City manger, Contreras presides over several departments and initiatives including the airport, economic development, equity and government, public affairs, and the convention and sports facilities. Other managers have temporarily assumed oversight of these, save for the latter, which Contreras still oversees, according to Jeff Coyle, director of Government and Public Affairs. Contreras is not receiving additional pay as interim executive director of the Tricentennial.