You only turn 300 once, San Antonio. It’s crucial we get the Tricentennial right.
Are we on track? It’s fair to wonder. Recent news stories have raised a number of questions about the Tricentennial Commission, the nonprofit tasked with putting on the yearlong celebration for San Antonio’s 300th birthday.
Fundraising has been lackluster, and the Tricentennial Commission is nowhere near its goal of raising $10.3 million from the community — although there are signs fundraising may be improving.
The handling of a coveted and lucrative media partnership smacks of favoritism from the commission’s paid staff. And the volunteer board appears unwilling to take a critical view of staff’s handling of this most important celebration.
As Express-News reporter Josh Baugh recently highlighted, Tricentennial staff had been in talks with KSAT-TV for months about a possible media partnership before putting out a request for proposals in April to all broadcast outlets.
The request for proposals w
as issued after executives with WOAI-TV complained to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Baugh reported. In the end, KSAT won the partnership.
Lionel Sosa, a volunteer committee chair, told us staff didn’t choose KSAT. The volunteer board made the selection. He said KSAT delivered a slick presentation with 25 people that was simply better than WOAI’s presentation.
In a video posted to Facebook, Jeff Coyle, a city spokesman, said other media outlets could have spoken with commission staff just as KSAT did. He noted the Tricentennial Commission is not required to put out RFPs because it is a nonprofit, local government corporation.
But these responses ignore a crucial fact: KSAT had months to prepare, putting it at a competitive advantage. Other media outlets did not. KENS 5 didn’t even make a pitch due to the short notice.
At some point the commission’s CEO, Edward Benavides, who has extensive government experience, should have recognized the obvious messiness of talking so much with one broadcaster about such a potentially lucrative and coveted partnership — and the lead time that would give for any potential RFP.
Benavides’ brother, Brendan Benavides, is the executive producer of KSAT’s “Good Morning San Antonio” show. Sosa said that family connection played no role in the selection of KSAT.
Maybe. But the whole situation looks bad, as does Sosa’s unwavering support of Edward Benavides.
There should have been a standard process for awarding all contracts and partnerships, big and small, and strict guidelines about conversations with potential bidders and conflicts of interest.
No wonder fundraising has been sluggish.
To be clear: The Tricentennial is an important event. One that, ideally, will celebrate our rich history and culture. But we can’t fault members of the business community who have questions about making large commitments to an operation so obviously flawed.
Beyond this, we remain perplexed why the organization let go its professional fundraiser, who helped raise $5 million in nine months. That’s another questionable staff decision.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who was elected this summer and inherited the fundraising shortfall, has emerged as a chief fundraiser.
In a promising sign, San Antonio-based USAA recently pledged $500,000 to the cause — more than $6.1 million has been raised at last count — and officials have expressed confidence that other large donations are coming. Maybe Nirenberg and others can right the ship.
But remember, the Tricentennial celebration kicks off New Year’s Eve, less than two months from now. At this point, the ship shouldn’t need righting.
San Antonio is turning 300, and we are all lucky to not only be part of that story but to celebrate this unique moment in our shared history. But staff’s poor handling of key issues is undercutting community support and confidence.
Again, you only turn 300 once, San Antonio. Is the commission getting this right?