Alamo's Future in the Hands of Lawmakers

By PAUL J. WEBER
|  Tuesday, Apr 5, 2011  |  Updated 10:21 PM CDT
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Alamo's Future in the Hands of Lawmakers

Frank Heinz

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Remember the Alamo? Lately, a clash over who should run it has been tough to ignore.

Although the 2.5 million people who visit the revered Texas landmark each year probably haven't noticed any changes, an ongoing saga played out under the Capitol dome and in the media could shake-up how Alamo's been run for the last century.

Lawmakers are expected Wednesday to consider bills that could diminish the caretaker role of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, which was given custody of the Alamo in 1905 but came under investigation by the Texas attorney general's office last year.

Dogging the Daughters are allegations that financial bumbling and mismanagement have put the Alamo at risk, and their efforts to brand the landmark's name have been blocked by Gov. Rick Perry's office. The Daughters say their custodianship is sound, and the group's attorney sent prosecutors a letter last month suggesting they were trying to pressure the group through the press.

Democratic state Rep. Ryan Guillen, who chairs the House committee that will take up the Alamo bills, said he doesn't want to see the Daughters lose their custodianship.

"I think they've done an excellent job overall in the last 105, 106 years in taking care and being in charge of the Alamo," Guillen said. "I just want to make sure that the state of Texas is doing all we can."

One bill would put the Alamo under the Texas Historical Commission, though the Daughters could still continue to manage and operate the state-owned shrine. Others require the Daughters to produce financial statements and allow them to begin charging admission, a move the Daughters oppose, being proud that they've always run the Alamo without charging admission or using taxpayer funds.

Sarah Reveley, a former Daughters member who says she was expelled by the group, believes proposals don't go far enough. She wants the Daughters taken out of the picture entirely.

Reveley spent Tuesday culling for lawmakers what she said is 2.5 gigabytes of emails and records laying out a picture of mismanagement. She plans to testify, though not in the "Don't Mess With Texas" T-shirt that she's usually photographed wearing when speaking against the Daughters.

"It's going to be the AG's actions that get them," Reveley said. "Not this bill."

The attorney general's office told Guillen's committee last month that it would prefer not to resort to legal action against the Daughters.

But assistant attorney general Daniel Hodge did admit concern with the Daughters' ability to raise money, and whether they were putting new projects ahead of preserving the Alamo. He also criticized the Daughters' efforts to trademark the Alamo brand without permission from the state, which owns the shrine.

Nine days after the hearing, the attorney general's office asked the Daughters to waive a confidentiality agreement so prosecutors could discuss specific concerns in its investigation publicly. The Daughters declined.

Jim Ewbank, the group's attorney, wrote back that the Daughters themselves have been left in the dark during the investigation. He asked why they haven't been given the chance to respond to prosecutors' concerns despite their full cooperation

"Why should DRT waive the confidentiality of the investigation so your office can meet with whoever you want and discuss only your perspective, while your office continues to deny DRT access to the same information based on that same statue?" Ewbank wrote in the letter, dated March 23.

The Alamo is home of the famous 1836 battle where an outnumbered band of Texas settlers staged a legendary stand before Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his Mexican forces seized the mission. During the Battle of San Jacinto weeks later, victorious Texas soldiers shouted, "Remember the Alamo!"

Guillen said his committee won't vote on the proposals Wednesday.

Alamo marketing director Tony Caridi said Daughters leaders plan to attend the hearing. At the Alamo, meanwhile, Caridi said it remains business as usual. Visitors' donations are steady, and attendance was up 1 percent.

"We're want some closure," said Caridi about the investigation. "We want some finality."

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