San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wants the city to reconsider how it will make future deals to fund nonprofit agencies.
At a City Council Governance Committee meeting Wednesday the city attorney and city auditor told council members it was looking at various proposed changes, including making city created nonprofits subject to review by the city’s Ethics Review Board. The suggestions come just a few months after the CEOs of two city created organizations — the Tricentennial Commission and Centro San Antonio — stepped down.
“In one case, you had a bad actor allegedly committing a crime; in the other, we had questionable judgment for contracting,” Nirenberg said. “Both of those issues may not have been totally prevented by improvements, but I can see where improvements would have helped.”
The mayor sent his initial request in a letter to council members on Nov. 29 after a Centro employee was discovered embezzling nearly $160,000 in November. CEO Pat DiGiovanni resigned after the discovery. Tricentennial CEO Edward Benavides resigned after concerns over media contracts came under scrutiny.
The city provides about $120 million every year to 272 non-profits. Some of these are quasi-governmental entities like Centro, the Tricentennial, and Visit San Antonio – the city’s tourism arm. They were voted into existence by the City Council and have board or commissions that oversee them, but are not subject to city oversight.
Other nonprofits that receive city money are known as delegate agencies. These agencies, like Habitat for Humanity, receive money each year from the city to fund community programs.
Nirenberg said procedures and standards when working with outside agencies should be ones the public will have confidence in.
“We rely so heavy on the nonprofit community to do vital services for the city and, quite frankly, the city would stop functioning if it were not for them,” he said. “So when you have bad actors, particularly within organizations that were created by the city, we want to make sure we have the proper standards of government and oversight in place.
City Attorney Andy Segovia said these proposed policy changes provide an extra level of protection and communication “so that the city has a better idea as to what's happening on more of a day to day or week by week basis.”
Some suggestions for improvements included additional audits or background checks.
District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana raised concerns about creating too much burden for some nonprofit agencies.
“I just want to make sure we’re doing this in conjunction with some voice from these nonprofits,” he said. “… I want the money to go to the mission and not to audits.”
Natalie Griffith, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, issued a letter to the governance committee asking for that inclusion.
“I understand the City Council wanting to move quickly on producing something but the City Attorney and City Auditor are not experts on non-profits,” she said. “... Please don’t try to handle this important matter in a vacuum and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”
The city attorney’s office expects to provide an update on these proposals in March.
- READ | Letter from San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg