State lawmakers concerned that Alamo redesign effort not transparent

3:47 p.m Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Stephen Spillman
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday. STEPHEN SPILLMAN/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

State lawmakers on Tuesday chastised Land Commissioner George P. Bush for not doing enough to involve the public in the redevelopment of the Alamo site.

“Everybody that’s here today sitting in front of you voted for legislation during the regular session that would have made … what you’re doing illegal,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told Bush during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, referring to a bill that didn’t pass. Also questioning Bush about transparency concerns were Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Bush’s critics have said the General Land Office has bungled the multimillion-dollar project to redesign the area surrounding the 250-year-old mission as well as to renovate three nearby state-owned buildings for a museum and additional historical programming. Concerns center on suspicions that the 1836 battle will be diminished in a retelling of the edifice’s history (which Bush has denied) and on plans to move a cenotaph that honors those who died during the battle.

Redevelopment decisions have been made in closed-door meetings, and not all of the information about those decisions has been made available after public information requests, critics have chided.

In September, the Texas Republican Party’s executive committee passed a resolution critical of how Bush’s General Land Office was handling the redevelopment of the Alamo.

Bush acknowledged that meetings of the three nonprofits that were created to work with the land office on the Alamo project are not open to the public. When asked why by Huffman, Bush said the law doesn’t require the groups to meet in public.

Bush defended his actions to the committee, saying the project has been under budget so far and public feedback will be incorporated before certain elements of the master plan are executed. He said a glass wall that was part of the project has been removed from the master plan at the request of members of the public and said the cenotaph “will always stand.”

“This won’t be done overnight. As frustrating as it may be to some people, we have a process that has been drafted. It’s a political year, I know,” Bush said. “We’ll be here as long as we can to get this thing done.”

The land office has posted minutes from the private meetings of the nonprofits on, not to be confused with, the campaign website for Rick Range, a well-known figure among Alamo buffs in Texas who is running against Bush as land commissioner. Professional land surveyor Davey Edwards is also running to unseat Bush. Bush’s handling of the Alamo project has become the rallying cry against his re-election in 2018.

In 2015, Bush wrested control of the Alamo from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, accusing the group of mismanagement.

“I liked it when the daughters had it,” said Don P. Dixon, a San Antonio resident who was at the hearing Tuesday and whose late wife was a member of the group. “Everything was fine. Everything was open. They did an absolutely fabulous job of building (the Alamo) up from nothing to the most treasured site in Texas. I don’t like anything that he’s doing with his plan. It’s a mess of Texas proportions.”