The Texas General Land Office released an internal audit Thursday critical of accounting practices at the Alamo that is consistent with a draft report from September that the American-Statesman had obtained and written about in February but which Land Commissioner George P. Bush had described as “doctored.”
The document, which questions the use of a nonprofit to manage the Alamo, was characterized by the agency as a “proactive internal audit of the Alamo’s accounting and financial management — the first of its kind in Alamo history — undertaken by the Texas General Land Office to modernize and reinforce oversight and accountability.”
“Many of the recommendations have already been implemented while others are being fulfilled through the implementation of a new Alamo management contract with the Alamo Trust,” Bush said in the statement.
The audit begins with the internal auditors’ “overall conclusions,” which are presented in language identical to the draft report quoted by the Statesman in February and which agency spokeswoman Brittany Eck said then had been “altered,” but would not say how.
At the time, Bush was being challenged in the Republican primary by his predecessor, Jerry Patterson, and two other candidates, who made his management of the state’s most hallowed site a central issue in the campaign. Eck said then that the audit would be made public in the spring. In the meantime, Bush’s campaign labeled the Statesman story “fake news,” and Bush won the March 6 primary, with 58 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Patterson and 12 percent for the two other candidates, Davey Edwards and Rick Range.
Bush faces Democrat Miguel Suazo in the fall. Suazo said Thursday the audit “clearly demonstrates that George P. Bush is in over his head and lacks the competence to manage our state’s most historic landmark.”
The audit raises red flags about how the agency uses a nonprofit — now called the Alamo Trust — to manage Alamo operations using public money but without all the checks and public scrutiny that are supposed to follow those dollars.
The audit concludes that “the current situation obscures the control of the funds. It also has created a situation where GLO is responsible for state laws over the use of funds, but with limited control since the expenditures are prior to approval by the GLO.”
It recommends that the General Land Office “reconsider the current structure and funding model for operating the Alamo.”
Members of the state Senate Finance Committee took the same view at a Dec. 5 hearing, questioning Bush about what they considered the Alamo’s convoluted management structure. The senators were unaware of the draft internal audit report at the time, which concluded, in language that remains intact in the final audit, “This is an unusual situation that has created complexity and a lack of clarity regarding the nature and the use of the funds used for Alamo operations.”
“It is also the root cause of several of the observations in this report,” the audit says. “We determined that the financial formation and accounting of the Alamo Complex fund did not comply with state requirements. Also, not all contract requirements of the agreement to operate the Alamo are being met. In addition, controls over budgeting, expenditures, contracting, and reconciliations should be strengthened.”
In seeking to dissuade the Statesman from reporting on the draft audit report in February, Eck asserted in an email, “This is a document that has been significantly altered and leaked before being presented to you as authentic.”
“The real question any journalist should be asking is who is criminally tampering with government documents in violation of Sec. 37.10 of the Texas Penal Code in an effort to politicize and detract from the root mission of preserving the Alamo,” Eck said.
In February, Bush said the alleged altering and leaking of the draft audit report was being investigated by state law enforcement officials. There has been no further word on that investigation, and Eck did not reply Thursday when asked about the status of the investigation.
Instead, on Thursday, the agency boasted about an audit that drew the same conclusions as the draft audit whose authenticity it had sought to impeach.
“The fact of the matter is that the GLO proactively initiated this audit — the first of its kind in Alamo history — to modernize and reinforce oversight and accountability,” Eck said in an email. “Our focus is, and will continue to be, making proactive operational changes that raise the standards for accountability and operations above and beyond any previously at the Alamo.”
Patterson’s answer, which was also articulated by some members of the Senate Finance Committee, was that the agency should manage the Alamo using state employees.
“Let’s make them GLO employees,” state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, told Bush at the hearing. “I know you don’t want to see this big bump in employees because we’re small-government Republicans, but I think this one we could explain.”
The agency’s response to the audit recommendation that it reconsider how it operates the Alamo was that it was moving “toward an industry-standard nonprofit museum management model” that “will take some years, and is taking place in the context of a historic renovation at the Alamo and its surroundings in San Antonio.” Bush is overseeing a $450 million plan to redevelop and improve the historic site.
The response also cited some personnel changes, with the agency chief financial officer being named acting chief financial officer for the Alamo as of Jan. 5, the hiring by the agency of an Alamo finance director to replace the trust’s accounting director, and converting all the trust accountants into agency employees. It also noted the creation of new purchasing policies, to be implemented Sept. 1, and a new management agreement requiring the trust to comply with state purchasing guidelines.