Ray Myers, a retired high school principal with a lifelong love for the Alamo, figured he could bring a “grassroots” sensibility to the Texas General Land Office’s $400 million vision for the San Antonio shrine.
“I personally spoke to [GLO Commissioner George P. Bush] in April. I expressed my concerns about the ‘Reimagine’ plan and specifically asked why there weren’t any grassroots Texans on his planning committee,” Myers related. “He responded that there should be additional Texans on the committee and promised to get back to me the following day.”
What followed, Myers said, was an April 28 phone call from Ash Wright, Bush’s political director, who offered the Forney resident a board position for $250,000.
“This conversation is over,” Myers told Wright.
Neither Bush, who appoints board members, nor Wright responded to The Texas Monitor’s requests for comment.
Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald said, “I’m not aware of anybody making upfront contributions,” but added, “There’s been a financial expectation” of appointees to the Alamo Foundation board.
“There’s a clear expectation that when the master plan is finalized, there will be a need to raise a large amount of money from the private sector. Some board members can do it individually. Some know people who know people who can make those gifts.”
“You have to give or to get,” McDonald said.
Three nonprofit boards — the Foundation, the Endowment, and Alamo Complex Management Inc., which dispenses state funds — are headed by the same 10 directors.
What began as a focused effort to repair crumbling sections of the Alamo has morphed into a much larger venture, with much greater financial needs. Outside consultants hired by the boards envision a makeover that deemphasizes the 1836 siege by Mexican troops to, instead, promote “unity, not division.”
“We have to make sure that the Alamo is as powerful in the 21st century as it was in 1836,” Bush told the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce last year.
As one San Antonio official put it: “We’ll use the battle of 1836 to draw people in, and then we’ll tell them the real story.”
Bush touted the Alamo Foundation in a 2015 press release headlined, “Texas Titans to Turn Nonprofit Into Fundraising Powerhouse.” Two years later, after expenses, only $50,000 sits in the Foundation account, according to McDonald. In the meantime, the state reportedly spent $6.1 million on consultants.
“We’d like to raise $500,000 for the year. We just started a GoFundMe Account to raise $50,000 for [Alamo] cannons,” McDonald noted.
In the meantime, the public side of the public-private partnership is doing the heavy lifting.
During the 2015 and 2017 sessions, the Texas legislature appropriated a combined $106 million for Alamo-related projects — some of it from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Accountability for the funding is weak, as lawmakers attached no return-and-report requirements for the outlays.
The biggest chunk of state money — $14.4 million — purchased three buildings across the street from the Alamo. Taxpayers in San Antonio paid over $37 million more in two bond issues.
McDonald said private fund-raising will begin in earnest when a master plan is finally approved.
The Alamo project has been riddled by a hailstorm of public objections. Controversial proposals to uproot trees and enclose the historic site with a glass wall have been revised.
Plans to relocate the historic Cenotaph memorial two blocks away and to close down Alamo Plaza’s free-speech zone are still in play but remain highly contentious.
Elected land commissioner in 2014, Bush quickly made a compelling case for his office taking control of the Alamo from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It was generally agreed that more resources were required than the DRT could muster.
Bush, with his handpicked board, vowed to “restore dignity” to the iconic site.
The handover wasn’t so dignified. The Daughters sued Bush’s Land Office, alleging that his agency illegally seized artifacts and locked members out of the DRT library. The GLO settled out of court, relinquished claims to the DRT archives, and agreed to pay the Daughters’ $200,000 in legal fees.
Later, Alamo Complex Management Inc., under Bush’s oversight, saw its chief operating officer resign after he used an official credit card for charges at Hooters, a pizza joint, and other establishments. There were also gifts for Spurs player, Pau Gasol, and Princess Astrid of Belgium, who visited the Alamo in December.
McDonald told the San Antonio Express-News at the time that ACM had “about three credit cards” for Alamo business expenses.
Bush’s own party leaders challenged his stewardship last month. The State Republican Executive Committee passed a resolution — by a vote of 57-1 — demanding “transparency in finances and operations of the Alamo, including the open records requests for information from nonprofit corporations engaged in the restoration and operation of the Alamo.”
The SREC further warned that “Texas’ authority regarding the Alamo shall not be infringed upon by any organization or authority, including but not limited to local governments, the federal government, the United Nations, or UNESCO.”
San Antonio city officials are all in. The council voted unanimously to support the Alamo master plan which, among other things, aims “to delineate the historic footprint of the mission and to expose archaeological remains of the mission walls and stone footings.”
In a show of bipartisanship, then-Mayor Ivy Taylor, a Democrat, said the plan “will preserve and protect the Alamo and help future generations understand the complex history of this cherished place.”
Follow the Money
Even so, the master plan remains in flux and under fire from historical groups across the state.
Richard Range, a Texas historian in Garland, shares Myers’ interest in knowing where the Alamo money is going.
Noting that Bush heads both the state General Land Office and the private Alamo Endowment, Range asserted, “He is in effect signing contracts with himself, which is illegal or unethical.”
Conflicts of interest loom as Bush and San Antonio insiders on the board become downtown landlords and spin up development deals, including the creation of a nearby “entertainment district.”
“What we’re seeing is a slush fund that’s designed to make a lot of rich people richer,” Range told The Texas Monitor.
Myers, who leads the Kaufman County Tea Party, believes the $250,000 board buy-in purportedly proffered by Wright was intended to “keep ordinary Texans off their committee and out of their business.”
“Actually, it’s the public’s business,” he said.
A public protest against the “Reimagine” plan is scheduled at the Alamo at noon, Saturday, Oct. 14.
“It is safe to assume that this fight will be loud and ugly. It is also highly likely that when it is over, George P. Bush’s once-promising political career in the state will be finished,” Range predicted.
Clarifications: In a previous version of this story, our wording suggested that $6.1 million for consultants went through the Alamo Foundation. It, in fact, came from the state. In addition, in the previous version, we mentioned only one of two bonds taxpayers voted on in connection with the Alamo. The Texas Monitor prizes accuracy in its reporting and welcomes information about errors or omissions that warrant correction.