Web Posted: 07/19/2009 12:00 CDT
DRT now feuding over the Alamo
By Scott Huddleston - Express-News
Tensions within the group running the Alamo have fueled an unprecedented schism, casting uncertainty on the future of the Shrine of Texas Liberty.
Two members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are forming their own nonprofit to benefit the Alamo, despite the DRT’s objections.
“I think the split has been a long time coming,” said Erin Bowman, the San Antonian leading the effort.
Conflicts within the DRT, which has run the state’s top tourist attraction since 1905, are frequent. But some say in-fighting among the Daughters is the worst it’s been in years, amid the pressure of raising a record $60 million for the state-owned Alamo in a down economy.
DRT leaders say they’re moving ahead with plans to preserve and expand the Alamo, working methodically within their bylaws and committee structure to do the job right.
But a faction of DRT members favors an aggressive marketing and fund-raising campaign. They say the Daughters are neglecting their duty as guardians of the Alamo.
A few even question whether a volunteer group like the DRT is fit to run the Alamo in this era of competitive fund-raising.
In 2007, Bowman, a DRT member working as a volunteer, spearheaded the DRT’s capital campaign for the Alamo, site of the epic 1836 battle for Texas independence.
She was in France, caring for her daughter, who was critically injured in a boating accident, when DRT members voted at their May 2008 convention in Tyler to remove her from the campaign. Some of the Daughters have decried the fact that Bowman wasn’t able to defend herself when she was dismissed.
Madge Roberts, who was DRT president-general when Bowman was removed, said that even though the Daughters disagreed with some of her tactics, the task she was charged with may have been “too big a job” for one person.
“She wasn’t treated badly,” Roberts said. “They voted to thank her for all the wonderful things she’d done.”
Dianne MacDiarmid, who recently served as the DRT’s Alamo Committee chairwoman, said a faction of the Daughters, known by critics as “The Toxic 20,” were jealous of the attention Bowman was getting. She had been meeting with VIPs, telling them about an ambitious 2007 Alamo master plan to expand the grounds, add new buildings and even reconstruct the acequia that provided water to the Alamo defenders in 1836.
“There’s a group of women who use the Alamo to try to promote themselves. For them, it’s a power trip,” said MacDiarmid, who’s helping form the new nonprofit.
The DRT, with about 7,000 members, has some forward-thinking members, MacDiarmid said. But a vocal faction has been slow to embrace new ideas, she said.
The week before Bowman was dismissed, the Ewing Halsell Foundation gave the DRT $1 million for its capital campaign. The funds now are frozen in an account with the San Antonio Area Foundation, since the Daughters have yet to develop an Alamo business plan.
After Bowman was dismissed, private donors who had pledged more than $70,000 to develop a business plan withdrew their support.
The Daughters also have severed ties with DINI Partners, a national fundraising consulting firm hired in late 2006 to craft a business plan and help with the capital campaign.
DRT leaders said they’re still actively pursuing all the elements of the master plan, including a business and marketing plan that would help them access the Halsell grant.
“We had hoped the DRT would handle the whole situation internally,” said Patti Atkins, DRT president general.
The DRT, which doesn’t charge admission to the Alamo but relies on gift shop revenues for 92 percent of its operating income, has cut its operating budget from about $6 million to $5.5 million. But Atkins said a lot of nonprofits have cut expenses in the recession.
“We’ve really been through ups and downs, including the Great Depression. But the DRT is a strong organization. We’re going to make whatever adjustments are necessary to preserve that complex,” Atkins said.
Bowman shouldn’t have used the master plan to entice donations before the DRT had secured room to expand, she said.
The DRT is working with the city to close part of Houston Street, and to get the city to deed it the right-of-way. So far, it’s been unable to negotiate the purchase of two nearby businesses to make room for the expansion.
“Some of the information she shared was premature. You can’t show a huge drawing of an expansion when you don’t own the property,” Atkins said.
Critics say the DRT has dragged its feet on a plan to raise money from marketing and branding opportunities. Although many companies use an Alamo image, there’s no official Alamo logo used to sell T-shirts and other items to support it.
Bowman said the Daughters also have failed to embark on a new frontier by starting a membership program, like many zoos and museums have done. People would pay fees for access to special, after-hours events, a newsletter and other perks.
Atkins said a special task force of the DRT is still working on branding and membership.
“Those two things really have to be conjoined,” she said.
The DRT had worked toward getting the Alamo accredited by the American Association of Museums, like the Witte Museum and McNay Art Museum. But members voted at their recent convention in Killeen in May to halt that effort.
Gossip and in-fighting
David Stewart, director of the Alamo for seven years, made a surprise announcement at the convention that he’d retire May 31. Stewart said the convention in May was the most divisive he’s seen.
“The ladies were at each other’s throats, gossiping and in-fighting,” he said.
Leaders of the organization have refused to listen to outside experts and Alamo staff, he said, adding: “They need to let staff do its work.”
Stewart’s departure was followed by another. Craig Stinson resigned last month after working as the Alamo’s first-ever marketing director for nearly two years.
Bowman, who’s worked in private fund-raising for 30 years, isn’t content to just walk away from the situation. Her creation of a nonprofit is an end run, yet she insists it isn’t a form of payback, but a way to promote the best interests of the Alamo.
“I don’t care about the Daughters. I care about the Alamo,” she said.
Bowman is well connected to movers and shakers through the volunteer fund-raising she’s done for everything from the San Antonio Academy and Christus Santa Rosa to clinics in Mexico.
She said her new nonprofit would work with the Texas Historical Commission to disperse funds for Alamo projects through the San Antonio Area Foundation.
“I’ll never touch the money,” she said. “I will bypass the DRT.”
Bowman has applied for a service mark, similar to a trademark, with the Texas secretary of state’s office, to form the nonprofit.
A lawyer for the DRT has sent letters asking her to “cease and desist any and all fundraising efforts.”
Even though Bowman is a member, “she currently is not authorized to represent the DRT in regards to raising charitable funds for the Alamo,” lawyer Anthony Campbell wrote.
Atkins said she doubted the DRT would sue Bowman. But the Daughters are proceeding with their own Alamo campaign.
In Stewart’s absence, former DRT president-general Virginia Van Cleave, the new Alamo Committee chairwoman, is serving as an unpaid interim director at the Alamo. Atkins said the DRT will hire a new director to lead the Alamo’s 85-member staff.
But MacDiarmid said the DRT isn’t up to the task of addressing the Alamo’s needs, from the crumbling walls of the 1700s Shrine and Long Barrack to a new, expanded library.
“The Daughters think $20,000 is a lot. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed,” she said.
Through the years, there’s been occasional talk of the state taking over management of the Alamo. Bowman said she’d like to see the Alamo in the care of the state, with the Daughters providing volunteer support.
Atkins said the DRT is doing just fine, continuing to run the Alamo at no cost to taxpayers.
“We have not changed our focus at all. Our timeline has changed, but the state of the nation also has changed,” she said.
DRT now feuding over the Alamo
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