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Tricentennial Commission CEO Edward Benavides resigned from his position Monday, less than seven weeks before San Antonio kicks off the yearlong celebration of its 300th birthday.
Benavides, former chief of staff for the city manager, served as acting director of the Tricentennial Office before his appointment as chief executive officer in December 2015. Benavides’ resignation is effective immediately and comes about five months after Asia Ciaravino, the Tricentennial Commission’s chief operating officer, resigned.
Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras will lead the organization tasked with planning, promoting, and coordinating the city’s 300th anniversary as interim CEO “until a permanent replacement is approved by the commission,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley stated in a memo to City Council.
“Our 300th anniversary should imbue joy, aspiration and legacy, not the negativity that currently surrounds the community wide planning,” Benavides stated in a press release. “For these reasons I have resigned as CEO of the Commission.”
“Edward has been a valuable asset to the City of San Antonio, and will be reassigned within the City organization,” Sculley stated in an email. “I’m grateful for the passion and commitment he gave to the Tricentennial effort, and there is no question that the year-long celebration will be a great success and source of pride for our community.”
But some, including City Council members, have questioned the organization and its fundraising abilities.
During a Council committee meeting about Tricentennial planning in August, members pressed Benavides and fundraising consultant Kathleen Doria for specific numbers regarding budget and fundraising efforts.
Doria’s contract with the commission was not renewed last month, and those documents have yet to be provided, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) told the Rivard Report on Monday.
Instead of a robust report at the following meeting, “We got a marketing, promotional brochure,” Brockhouse said.
The Tricentennial Commission leadership’s handling of an exclusive media contract for the yearlong celebration was recently shown to favor one broadcast station, the San Antonio Express-News reported. The contract procedure was yet another reason, Brockhouse said, for Council to look deeper into how the organization functions – or doesn’t.
“I just think the entire process exhibits a lack of organizational control,” Brockhouse said.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who chairs the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee, said he and his colleagues will continue the call for stronger communication between the Tricentennial Commission and City Council.
“I will push to continue to be open and transparent about this transition,” said Treviño, who expects the previously requested documents at the committee’s meeting next week.
“[Council is] here to help. We want to know more so that we can do more,” he added. “There’s just no time to waste.”
The Tricentennial year is slated to kick off in 49 days on New Year’s Eve with a major downtown celebration.
“The good thing that has come out of [the attention the Tricentennial has received] is there are community partners rising up for the cause,” Brockhouse said.
As of this month, the Tricentennial has raised $6.1 million of its $10.3 million budget goal. San Antonio business leader and philanthropist Bill Greehey announced a $1 million donation in September and USAA committed $500,000 on Nov. 2.
“I applaud Edward’s willingness to step aside and minimize distractions as San Antonio commemorates its 300th birthday,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg stated in an email. “The Tricentennial is the most important moment in our lifetime to exhibit who we are and what our city will be in its next era.”
But Benavides’ departure doesn’t mean the Tricentennial is “fixed,” Brockhouse said. “The buck just doesn’t stop with [him]. … There needs to be accountability to the top [City manager] with these types of things. We really got to think long and hard about how this could happen.”
The Tricentennial Commission is a local government corporation set up by City Council, but separate from city management. It has its own volunteer community board which will select the new CEO.
But part of the accountability lies in the Council, Treviño said, which now has a more direct connection to the Tricentennial through its reports to the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee, Treviño said.
“The job of my committee is not to find blame or what went wrong, but to find out how this will work out,” he said. “We don’t want just a party. [The Tricentennial] should really be an educational opportunity [that] results in a stronger, unified voice in our community.”