Irregularities discovered in Tricentennial contract with TV station

(Photo: SBG San Antonio)

San Antonio is getting ready to celebrate its tricentennial in 2018. But the organization trusted with your tax dollars to plan the year-long party has been plagued by resignations, fundraising struggles and irregularities in how a major contract was awarded.

For years the News 4 Trouble Shooters have investigated government contracts. This time instead of a construction company or vendor, the contract is between the city and a TV station. A competitor of News 4 San Antonio. Still we thought you should know how this unusual deal was made, because it effects your tax money.

The city and Bexar County have contributed more than 12 million in tax dollars and government resources to put on the tricentennial. In November of 2015 Edward Benavides was selected to run the Tricentennial Commission.

Internal emails obtained by the News 4 Trouble Shooters show that two months later, in January of 2016, Benavides and his staff were already meeting with KSAT TV to be the exclusive media partner for the tricentennial. A move that was questioned by some members of the commission, like T. C. Calvert, who ended up resigning last year.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was the TV contract. I think it was already in the mix that they had done some things behind the scenes with the powers that be over at KSAT, with some of the executive team. I felt if you're going to celebrate 300 years every TV outlet in San Antonio should be part of that process," Calvert said.

Usually when a government entity awards a contract, it puts out a Request For Proposals, or RFP, so it can choose the best deal. The Tricentennial Commission put out RFP’s before picking an event manager, a fundraising consultant, even before choosing someone to put together a commemorative book.

But another person who was working closely with the commission at the time who didn’t want to be identified told us the TV deal was different.

“To my knowledge there was never an official request for media partners to submit a proposal to the tricentennial,” the person said.

Emails show Benavides and his staff were ready to select KSAT for the media deal, potentially worth millions, without contacting any other TV stations.

After receiving a proposal from KSAT in March of 2016, a commission staff member replied to the station’s email, and copied her boss, Edward Benavides.

She wrote, “We love this!" and said the commission wanted to "formally bring it to the executive board for a vote."

News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila sat down with Tricentennial Commission CEO Edward Benavides to ask why the commission initially did not issue an RFP and talked to only one station. In particular, we wanted to ask about a connection he has to KSAT.

“Who is Brandon Benavides?” Avila asked.

Ed Benavides replied, “Brandon is my brother, and works at KSAT. He's an overnight producer, I had already advised the commission at the time and the City of San Antonio's legal department of this."

“Is that why you chose to talk to KSAT first because it was your brother's station?” Avila asked.

“No,” replied Benavides. “One of the staff members that was with the team was responsible for that stewardship and that outreach process. It wasn't a decision made by me alone."

The staff member he's referring to was Asia Ciaravino, who has since resigned from the commission.

I contacted Ciaravino but she did not want to comment about why she focused on KSAT.

In April of 2016 other TV stations learned of the deal and complained to the Tricentennial Commission. Benavides told us commission members then told him to go back and request proposals from other media organizations.

That was done, KSAT was again selected as media sponsor, along with Univision. Benavides says a committee made the final decision.

Why should you care about a t-v contract? Because the way it was done may have already cost the city more of your tax dollars.

“They are now taking over only this year's Celebrate San Antonio," said April Ancira, Board Chair of the San Antonio Parks Foundation.

The Parks Foundation raises money to improve city parks. The foundation's biggest fundraiser is the New Year's Eve event Celebrate San Antonio.

But the foundation already has a contract with a TV partner: News 4 San Antonio. In order to take over the event and make KSAT the exclusive media sponsor, the Tricentennial Commission now has to pay the parks foundation $50,000. The payout is to make up for what the parks foundation usually raises from the event.

“There is a bit of an irony that we're here to help the city and at the same time we've lost an event that compensates some of our operating budget to be able to raise money for the city," Ancira said.

“We had those discussions this summer and then I made a recommendation to the board for a one-time contribution of $50,000,” Benavides said.

“Can you afford to do that the way fundraising is going?" Jaie Avila asked.

“This will be a big production, we do see a variety of revenues that will come in, including not only the sponsorships, there are merchandise sales, so yes, we do feel confident we can do that," Benavides said.

The Tricentennial Commission originally projected it could raise $50 million. It has scaled back that goal to $22 million. As of now only $5.9 million has been raised from private sponsors.

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