TAMU-SA President, Former NISD Leader Picked for Tricentennial Commission

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Texas A&M President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson waves to the school mascot in the bell tower. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Texas A&M President Cynthia Teniente-Matson has been nominated president of the Tricentennial Commission.

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.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg makes an announcement regarding the New Year’s Eve Tricentennial event at the Hilton Palacio del Rio.

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.”

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff

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. 

13 thoughts on “TAMU-SA President, Former NISD Leader Picked for Tricentennial Commission

  1. Never mind that San Antonio’s Tourism & Hospitality Industry has over $13 billion economic impact annually. Hospitality no longer has a “chair” at the SA300 table. Never mind that art exhibits of world leading artists will “coincide” with SA300 and that art will be a signature of San Pedro Creek unveiling. Arts and culture no longer has a “chair” at the SA300 table. Instead, education has taken center stage at both ends of the SA300 table. Thank goodness religion and history were untouched pieces, if at least because that will be a suicidal public relations move. Marketing, well marketing is marketing and that hand is always essential – if event to sell anything despite the value or lack thereof. If any doubt look the SA300 marketing displayed in bus stops and via buses, which by the way lacks a clear message and is non-sense. No wonder why there was not available funding to secure first class musical acts. “We lost ourselves in the minutia” NO!!! Details count, small details are everything.

    • Curious as to the process that went into the hiring of the two bands. Surely someone had to have raised their hand and asked if these two bands were the best musical talent the commission could afford to reach the majority of participants? The bands that play Gruene Hall would have been a better choice. Although that decision can be characterized a minutia, it give some insight into the leadership on the commission that includes all on the commission.

  2. As San Pedro Creek is about the only worthwhile landmark that will survive past the 300 “birthday” celebration of out city. we cannot truly consider that (Bexar County is a minority partner with the City on Tricentennial) with all due respect. Bexar County is doing just fine. Please do not dissociate from the worthwhile project to be inaugurated in 2018 and which by the way make out city better. Do not worry we already knew and have crystal clear in our minds that SA300 and San Pedro Creek were two totally different projects, clearly both to honor our city, but two clearly separate and distinct projects. Thank you Bexar County Judge for your leadership on San Pedro Creek.

  3. Maybe the mayor should have appointed Thomas J. Henry to the commission since he seems to know how to throw parties to please young people (based on the parties he throws for his children). I expected to see another article today about the new musical acts added to the New Year’s Eve celebration to kick off the Tricentennial. My understanding was that the complaints were about headliners being performers with no attraction to younger people. Yesterday, however, it was reported that they added two more bands which are local names that have been around for years and represent Hispanic music. Am I wrong in thinking that younger people want Hip Hop stars or other current Top 100 singers to draw them to the celebration in huge numbers? I’m sure these members to the leadership have their advantages. But in the meantime, it just seems that the opening party news keeps getting worse and worse.

    • If the goal is to attract young people to the event, a Selena cover band and a country singer I have never heard of are not the best solutions… All of the criticism surrounding the headline acts is that they have no current hits, so they select a cover band for a singer who has passed away 20 years ago? This country singer is pretty boring too, I just listened to his songs… Cody Johnson would have been a much better choice–someone who has songs you can dance to but is from Texas! It is a party, after all–and it’s a party I will not be attending. Classic SA!

    • Thomas J. Henry-hilarious! If nothing else he could have pranced around the stage exhibiting his arrogance and “swagger” as entertainment.

  4. Let us hope Ms. Teniente-Matson begins her tenure with the immediate cancellation of the now exposed scandalous, crooked contract with KSAT TV. This contract was drawn up and secretly arranged between the ethically-challenged Phil Lane at KSAT and the city/commission in secret, disallowing competitive bids by all other media outlets. Here is a chance for the Tricentennial commission and their new leadership to step up and do the right thing. Cancelling the rigged contract will say everything about the integrity of Ms. Teniente-Matson, City Manager Skully and the Tricentennial commission itself. If the crooked contract is allowed to stand, our Tricentennial and its commission will be forever stained with the vile stench of corruption.

  5. Is San Antonio the only city celebrating 300 years of existence? I suspect not and the commission would have better served to contact those cities to gather ideas and lessons learned. Not sure if the co-chairs received compensation or not. Regardless, if they are running significant organizations, do you really belief they had the time to contribute significantly to the commission’s work? Appointing a retired executive is a good start to right the ship.

  6. Thomas J. Henry?! This poor deluded little clown has no credibility after making such a point of asserting his self-importance in his endless barrage of TV commercials about — you guessed it — Thomas J. Henry! We see Thomas J. Henry glowering at us several seconds in a courtroom, then Thomas J. Henry prancing down some courthouse hall, followed obediently by several admiring suited lawyers. Then the breathtaking spectacle intended to impress all — the diminutive Thomas J. Henry stepping importantly off Thomas J. Henry’s Lear jet toward Thomas J. Henry’s awaiting Bently Limousine as Thomas J. Henry’s helicopter dramatically swoops down to take him into the skies above us all. Childish. Boastful. Self-agrandizing. Nauseating.

  7. Teniente-Matson serves alongside Phil Lane of KSAT on the KLRN Board–hope that cozy friendship doesn’t dismiss the debacle Benavides created with the media contract between KSAT and the Commission. Also, if fundraising was a major problem at the commission, is no one aware that Teniente-Matson has not been able to raise funds for the university since Ferrier left? Even board members of her Foundation, who have been there since Ferrier, have publicly acknowledged that Matson has had a difficult time raising funds beyond the usual allotment of state funds. Folks, on the other hand, is an impressive leader and hope he can truly take the reigns toward the success of the Commission.

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