Questioning “confusing” and “convoluted” oversight of the Alamo, state lawmakers on Tuesday called on Land Commissioner George P. Bush to bring more transparency to his $450 million “Re-imagine” project.
Bush took sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, which challenged Bush to explain the relationships and responsibilities of three nonprofit “partners” involved in the Alamo venture.
The hearing was held in the wake of a series of reports by The Texas Monitor that showed conflicts-of-interest, opaque transparency, and other ethical problems surrounding the controversial Alamo plan.
During the proceedings, legislators learned of a fourth group, the Alamo Master Plan Management Committee.
Bush explained that the multiple entities were created on the advice of counsel, in part to protect board members “from liability.”
“What liability?” asked Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “Your first goal should be to protect the taxpayers of Texas.”
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she was also perplexed by the liability issue, noting that the Alamo is owned by the state, which has sovereign immunity.
Characterizing Bush’s Alamo organizational charts as “confusing” and “convoluted,” she concluded, “There’s more transparency in simplicity.”
While acknowledging that meetings of the nonprofit partners are closed to the public, Bush said minutes and financial reports are now available through his General Land Office.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, was unmoved.
“My staff and I went online to look for records. We couldn’t find them. There’s not a whole lot of information,” she said.
Watson chided Bush: “You say minutes and some documents are available, but that’s not the same as complying with open-records laws. State money should be open.”
“From employees to dollars to management — everything you’re doing falls under our open-government laws,” Watson said.
Bush asserted that the state Attorney General’s Office upheld GLO disclosure policies. In reality, the AG ruled last March that the Alamo Trust, one of the nonprofits, is subject to the public records act as an arm of the Land Office.
Kolkhorst concluded her line of inquiry saying, “More questions have arisen after today’s exchange.”
In a final shot across Bush’s bow, Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, advised the commissioner, “We’re going to pay a lot of attention to this during the interim. We’ll be watching closely.”
The 2017 Legislature earmarked $75 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for work at the Alamo. So far, it is the biggest block of money committed to Bush’s public-private campaign to upgrade the downtown San Antonio site and “recapture” the 1836 battlefield.
Plans include the development of three state-purchased private buildings across Alamo Plaza, closure of Alamo Street and relocation of the Cenotaph memorial.
[This article was first published in The Texas Monitor on December 5, 2017]
Kenric Ward is a veteran journalist whose work has appeared at Fox News, Houston Chronicle, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, TownHall, Roll Call, and Human Events. An editor and reporter at three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Ward was Virginia bureau chief for Watchdog.org before relocating to Texas.