The Sad, Absurd Chronicle of Incompetence at the Alamo

It's something of a head-scratcher why the Texas Legislature decided in 1905 to entrust the Daughters of the Republic of Texas with the care and preservation of the Alamo, site of one of the fiercest -- and most pivotal -- battles of the Texas war for independence. The DRT is a primarily genealogical organization with no expertise in managing historic properties or cultural sites. To become a member, one needs only be a woman, pay dues, and have ancestors who lived in Texas before it became a state.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that such a group would be poorly equipped to oversee the Alamo, but it was only in February 2010, when Attorney General Greg Abbott's office received a detailed complaint from a member, that it started to become clear what a mess they had made of things.

The woman was later booted from the group for bringing "discredit" to the organization, but her missive was enough to set off an extensive investigation by Abbott's office into the workings of the DRT and its oversight of the Alamo. The final report was completed this month and posted today by Texas Watchdog.

The DRT does not come out looking particularly good. The report sums things up in the first paragraph:

The OAG's investigation concluded that the DRT failed to fulfill its fiduciary duty to the State of Texas as trustee of the historic Alamo. Specifically, the DRT did not properly preserve and maintain the Alamo, misused state funds for the organization's own benefit, failed to recognize or address conflicts of interest, and allowed its own organizational prerogatives to interfere with its duty to act in the best interests of the State of Texas and the Alamo.

But such a brief synopsis doesn't adequately convey just how poorly things were run. For starters, take the DRT's most basic function, the preservation of the building itself. Between 2006 and 2009, the organization devoted a whopping $350 of the annual $6 million state budget to preservation. A 2007 master plan, developed at a cost of $96,000, was supposed to spell out the DRT's long-term preservation efforts but was unceremoniously scrapped.

All that was despite glaring structural problems and decade-old leaks that begged for repair. It wasn't until an 8-by-4-inch chunk of ceiling fell 20 feet to the floor below that the DRT began the repair process, and even then it took the urging of Governor Rick Perry.

In the meantime, the DRT was spending considerable energy looking out for number one. In 2007, it began a $60 million capital campaign, of which $1.6 million was earmarked for preservation, $10 million for improvements to DRT's library. That campaign petered out in 2008 after netting just $1.6 million.

When it became clear that the capital campaign had failed, the DRT began looking for other revenue sources. They found one in the Alamo itself, which they tried to trademark. This might not have been such a bad idea were they filing for a trademark on behalf of the state of Texas, or if they had some sort of official imprimatur for doing so, but they didn't. They submitted the application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on their own behalf, then refused to back down when the state objected.

The fight dragged on for several months before they reached a settlement, with both sides arming themselves with private trademark attorneys. To add another layer of absurdity, the AG's report determined that the DRT was improperly paying its lawyers with state funds, setting up a situation in which the state of Texas was funding a prolonged legal battle against the state of Texas.

The DRT also used state funds to lobby against the 2011 law that ultimately transferred control of the Alamo to the General Land Office and to pay part of an illegal, $900,000 contract with an L.A.-based marketing firm to promote a March 2011 concert marking the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo. The contract and concert were canceled after it became clear that DRT didn't have the sponsors it said it did.

The AG's report goes on to detail myriad organizational problems within the DRT, which can best be summarized by examining the position of executive director, which the DRT board decided, in January 2010, that the Alamo no longer needed. They changed their mind a few months later, but instead of casting a wide net and selecting a candidate with a background in historic preservation, tourism or nonprofits, they picked a guy who had applied to replace the longtime director of security, who had just been fired.

The AG's office did not approve.

"Although unique professional skills are necessary to oversee a historic structure like the Alamo, the DRT did not conduct a broad-based search for a qualified, professional chief executive," the report says. "Instead, the DRT selected an Alamo Director whose most recent professional endeavor involved overseeing security at a shopping mall."

The Alamo is now in the apparently competent hands of the General Land Office, which has requested an extra $1 million during the upcoming budget cycle to fund some of the repairs.

As for the DRT, its president, Karen Thompson, told the San Antonio Express-News that the organization is "shocked at the outrageously inaccurate conclusions within the report."

Update at 3:36 p.m.: DRT forwarded me a copy of their media release regarding the report, which is posted below. They say they are working on a more detailed response that will be released in the coming days.

On Tuesday evening, Karen R. Thompson, President General of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Inc., issued the following statement regarding a report released by the Texas Office of the Attorney General:

"This evening, we learned from the news media that after two and a half years, the OAG has released a report regarding our organization," said Thompson. "We are very disappointed that our organization did not receive the courtesy of a copy directly from Greg Abbott's office," continued Thompson.

"Further, DRT is shocked at the outrageously inaccurate conclusions within the report," said Thompson. "It is important to note that the OAG report contains no required changes for DRT to be compliant with State law," said Thompson.

The OAG report focuses on issues identified nearly three years ago that have already been resolved through contractual and organizational restructuring including:

-Leadership changes within the DRT -Revisions to DRT Bylaws and Manual of Procedure to comply with state laws -A strong working relationship with the GLO through an interim operating agreement for Alamo complex operations -Continued external auditing with stringent financial controls -A cooperative partnership with state agencies for preservation programs

"It seems that this report, which includes only interviews with disavowed members and former employees, is not an accurate description of DRT in 2012," said Thompson.

Thompson also noted that since 2010, OAG investigators denied five requests to meet with DRT leadership and staff.

"Our general counsel and staff are currently reviewing the 38-page report and a detailed formal response from DRT is forthcoming," concluded Thompson.