Zoo-Museum District

Discussion on ethics reached no conclusion at the most recent Zoo-Museum District.
Katelyn Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio intern

A year-long debate over transparency and ethics rages on among board members of the Zoo-Museum District.

Although a committee had previously prepared a new code of ethics and the full board looked ready to be finished with the issue in February, board member Charles Valier proposed new language at this week’s ZMD meeting. 

Charles Valier, left, and Robert Powell listen to presentation of the ZMD's proposed 2015 Preliminary District Administrative Budget
Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

Zoo Museum District board member Robert Powell has resigned because of connections with two subdistricts.

“After reflecting on it, I just thought I should resign and not belabor this issue,” said Powell.

Charles Valier, left, and Robert Powell listen to presentation of the ZMD's proposed 2015 Preliminary District Administrative Budget
Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

After four meetings held over the past year the Zoo Museum District is taking its first real steps to update the institution’s code of ethics.

“We’ve made real progress,” said Charles Valier, a commissioner who has been the board’s most vocal proponent of a stricter, stronger, code of ethics.

Zoo-Museum Board Meeting discussing proposed changes to the code of ethics
Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

The Zoo-Museum District is welcoming new board members Christine Chadwick and Michelle Harris at a time of heated debate. We asked them about  the issues -- proposed changes to the ZMD Code of Ethics, questions regarding the budget review process for ZMD subdistricts, and an increased call for transparency surrounding ZMD decision-making.

ZMD Board members continue debate over ethics code language
Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

The Zoo Museum District’s Thursday meeting was defined by two events: a stymied vote about language for its new code of ethics and a recent audit of the St. Louis Zoo. 

Code of Ethics Contention

The continued discussion regarding language for a new code of ethics drew ire from those wanting to include stricter language and members preferring a more relaxed approach.  Immediately prior to a vote on which language to forward on to city, county, and board council, board member Gloria Wessels left the meeting.

Zoo-Museum Board Meeting discussing proposed changes to the code of ethics
Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

Instead of voting on a new ethics policy today, the full Zoo-Museum District board repeated conversation held in two prior ethics committee meetings. Three issues remain contentious: whether changes should be applied to sub-districts, what level of financial disclosure is necessary, and how to handle ethics violations. 

Board Chair Thelma Cook expressed concern about the handling of violations, once identified.

The ethics committee meeting on Oct. 15.
Willis ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The Zoo Museum District Ethics Committee remains stretched between two poles. Board member Charles Valier continues to call for an annual disclosure of board member assets while board member Tom Campbell says this disclosure would be an undue burden on ZMD leaders.

Board members easily agreed to setting tax rate but debated value of allowing subdistricts to charge admission fees to non St. Louis City or County residents.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Tensions among Zoo-Museum District board members appear to have faded over the last year. The board met Monday to discuss the 2014 subdistrict tax rates, hear reports from committees and the executive director, and discuss past and future business of the board. 

Board members -- Robert Lowery appeared by speaker phone and Gloria Wessels was absent -- voted unanimously to approve an 8 cent property tax on behalf of the St. Louis Art Museum and the Zoo. The board voted to approve a 3.99 cent property tax for The Science Center, Botanical Gardens and Missouri History Museum.

imges from zoo museum district entities
File photos and Wikipedia

The Zoo Museum District’s Ethics Committee met Wednesday to discuss changes to the organization’s code of ethics. Committee members Charles Valier, Ben Uchitelle and Committee Chair Tom Campbell were primarily in agreement. But Campbell and Valier differ over the level of transparency to write into the code.

“Transparency for transparency’s sake doesn’t benefit anyone” said Campbell.

If you live in St. Louis or St. Louis County, you may eventually be able to get discounts at local cultural institutions. That idea was floated Thursday by Zoo-Museum District board member Gloria Wessels.

City and county residents pay taxes that fund the five institutions of the district: the St. Louis Art Museum, Science Center, St. Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum and Missouri Botanical Garden. Wessels told St. Louis Public Radio that it’s only fair that taxpayers get something for their money that visitors from other counties don’t.

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