Alamo caretakers dispute negative state report


But in recent years, the shrine was more like a lesson in colossal mismanagement.

So suggests a scathing report quietly released this week by the Texas Attorney General's Office, which for the first time laid out how the Daughters of the Republic of Texas lost its exclusive century-old stewardship of the shrine through bumbling oversight, neglect and, most seriously, alleged criminal misconduct involving state funds. Prosecutors, however, say they won't pursue charges.

One section heading of the 38-page report is simply titled "organizational dysfunction." It's bookended by examples of financial incompetence -- investigators say the Daughters never had a business plan -- and findings that the famously insular and fractured Daughters didn't make upkeep of the Alamo a priority, and failed to raise money for repairs because of internal shortcomings.

From 2006 to 2009, the report says, the Daughters budgeted just $350 a year for preservation. The Alamo is more than 200 years old.

"This report concludes that the DRT's leadership has imperiled the organization and its nonprofit mission by failing to exercise sound business judgment, violating state laws that govern nonprofit corporations, contravening the organization's own bylaws, and maintaining an ineffective governance structure that should be modernized to comport with standard best practices for nonprofit organizations," the report read.

Adding to insult was that the report itself blindsided the Daughters.

Karen Thompson, the current president-general of the Daughters, said in a statement late Tuesday, hours after the report's release, that she learned of it through reporters.

Thompson didn't immediately return an email Wednesday, and a phone number for the Daughters' offices in Austin rang unanswered. Her statement said she was "shocked at the outrageously inaccurate conclusions with the report" and argued that the findings dwelled on issues first identified in 2009 that have already been addressed.

Thompson added that since 2010, state investigators declined five requests to meet with the Daughters staff and leadership.

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

The Daughters are still stewards to the Alamo -- but they're on a much shorter leash. Last year, the Legislature put the most iconic landmark in Texas under the authority of the state's General Land Office, which has already implemented major changes such as outsourcing the gift shop to a private company for the first time in history. The agency is also asking lawmakers for $1 million for critical repairs.

Packing the report is blunt criticism levied at the Daughters by the state, which for two years has rode the balancing act of investigating serious accusations while lawmakers and agency leaders have been careful to praise their stewardship and not humiliate them.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte responded to the report by thanking state investigators and again expressing gratitude for Daughters' volunteerism.

"Now it is time for Texas to move on," she said.

The state gave the Daughters stewardship of the Alamo in 1905, and the fact that even today the top leaders remain volunteers appeared to mystify investigators. The Daughters operate under byzantine bylaws and a board-driven structure that investigators say "was both ineffective and detrimental to the long-term preservation of the Alamo."

An entire section of the report is devoted to a controversial $900,000 contract with the William Morris agency to market the 175th anniversary of the Alamo. Apart from approval of the project amounting to an email "polling" of select board members, the report said, the project was never budgeted and the first $75,000 payment was a loan. The contract was ultimately terminated.

In 2010, the Daughters needed a new chief of security at the Alamo. But investigators said that rather than search for someone with experience at museums or historic landmarks, the Daughters settled on a candidate whose last job was security at a shopping mall.

Among the most serious findings were the Daughters misappropriating $56,000 in state funds to cover legal fees. State money given to the Daughters is only supposed to benefit the Alamo, and not the Daughters.

The attorney general's office said it was foregoing prosecution because the Daughters' prior misconduct was addressed legislatively, referring to the Alamo being transferred to the custody of the land office last year.

Thompson said the Daughters are preparing a formal response to the report.

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