Arts center, San Benito spar over who “killed” Conjunto Festival

SAN BENITO — Both parties are blaming the other for a breakdown in negotiations to stage the annual Conjunto Festival.

Yesterday, the leader of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center accused the city of “killing” the Conjunto Festival, which was set for October.

Rogelio Nuñez, founder of the arts center, said the city’s “demonizing” of the center’s “accountability and transparency” led negotiations to break down.

“The city government of San Benito killed the Conjunto Festival,” Nuñez stated yesterday.

The city strongly denied the accusation.

“(I)t was Mr. Nuñez who walked away from the negotiations we were having with him,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

Meanwhile, the city is considering holding a musical event while the arts center discusses staging its own Conjunto Festival in cities including Brownsville, Los Fresnos, Weslaco, McAllen and South Padre Island.

Last week, Nuñez told city commissioners he would cancel the three-day festival if the city did not reduce its request for $17,365 in fees it said it would charge to help cover costs associated with holding the event.

But the city stated Nuñez did not respond to its offer to reduce fees to $7,000.

Nuñez argued an ordinance states the city charges $200 for use of San Benito Plaza, where the arts center has held its festival for years.

But yesterday, the city stated fees included $4,690 to assign police to provide security, $4,690 to rent San Benito Plaza for the three-day event and other fees to cover expenses such as clean up costs.

Timeline of events:

>> 11 a.m. Aug. 3. Nuñez meets with McClain and Luis Contreras, the city’s museum coordinator, to discuss the $17,365 in fees.

>> During discussions, Nuñez said, “the city was willing to enter into a partnership” if the art center agreed on certain conditions.

>> The city would reduce its fees by $3,900

>> The art center would use the city’s logo in its promotion of the festival

>> The center would provide financial reports for 2016

>> The center would provide a proposal of what the partnership would entail

As a result, the arts center offered paying $5,000 in fees while agreeing on the city’s conditions, Nuñez said.

“City staff said they would take our counter offer to City Manager Manuel De La Rosa and would get back to me,” Nuñez said. “They also said they wanted to finalize this discussion by the end of the day. I left City Hall with the impression that the city would come back with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to our $5,000 counter offer.”

>> 3:50 p.m. Aug. 3. The city issues a press release “demonizing” the arts center, accusing it of a “lack of accountability and transparency,” Nuñez said.

According to the press release, “it is unlawful for any organization to utilize public funds or public assets that do not benefit the community.”

The press release also stated the arts center’s events “are proposed to be private events with no accountability to the city of San Benito. That in itself displays a lack of transparency with the utilization of public assets.”

“The city did not call me to respond to our $5,000 offer as I was anticipating and, instead, the city decided to go to the press without informing me,” Nuñez said.

“Most importantly, not only were there false statements in the press release, the spin of the press release demonized the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center, inferring a lack of accountability and transparency.”

>> 7:45 a.m. Aug. 4. Nuñez said he sent an email informing Contreras the festival was canceled.

>> Noon, Aug. 4. Nuñez said City Commissioner Rene Villafranco called, stating De La Rosa reduced fees to $7,000.

“I informed him the city had violated the negotiations by not responding to our offer of $5,000 the day before and by going to the press in an attack of our character.”

>>5:51 p.m. Aug. 4. Luis Contreras, the city’s museum coordinator, sends Nuñez an email proposing to lower the fees to $7,000.

The city denied breaking down negotiations.

“The city did not violate the negotiations,” McClain stated. “Rather than to continue negotiations, after we denied his offer, he chose to announce the event was canceled, apparently because he did not get his way. He did not even respond to our offer of $7,000, which was conveyed to him twice on (Aug. 4).”

Meanwhile, the city is considering holding a music event to raise money for its coming museum complex, McClain stated.

“The city is considering the possibility of creating some type of music/cultural event, not necessarily in response to the cancellation but as a means to help raise money for the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum.”

The event, she said, “would not be a replacement of the Conjunto Festival.”

At this time, it is unknown whether the arts center will continue to use the city’s old library building as its headquarters.

“I don’t know where the relationship with the city of San Benito will end,” Nuñez stated. “We will continue our work. We won’t do a festival in San Benito, that’s for sure.”

For 20 years, the arts center leased the old library building for $1 a year.

Then two years ago, the center’s lease building expired.

“The city is preparing a user-fee agreement for use of its city properties,” McClain stated.