Zoo-Museum District

(Courtesy: St. Louis Science Center)

Updated 3:14 p.m., Oct. 29 with the board's final approval - It took 18 months of tension, but the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District has unanimously approved the board’s new code of ethics. The previous code was less than 10 years old but found insufficient after a conflict of interest arose involving the Science Center and a ZMD board member.

According to board member Tom Campbell the new code makes three main improvements on the old ethics code.

Kali greets his visitors.
Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Update: This article has been updated to include a State Auditor's approved recoupment of $.0001 for each of the Zoo Museum District institutions.

The Zoo Museum District board is lowering tax rates for the coming year. This will amount to St. Louisans paying a fraction of a cent less per one hundred dollars of taxable property.

Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

For Portfolio Gallery and Education Center founder Robert Powell, it’s now or never.

At the age of 70, Powell’s long-time dream of a dedicated African-American arts organization is no closer to reality. But his daily reality just got a little closer to making it happen.

Images from zoo museum district entities
File photos and Wikipedia

The debate over charging nonresidents of St. Louis and St. Louis County for admission to the various free Zoo-Museum District institutions was reignited in St. Louis this month. “A small entrance fee of, say, $8 for non-city, non-county people would be fair and would help institutions terrifically,” said Ben Uchitelle, the former chairman of the board of the Zoo-Museum District.

Science Center President Bert Vescolani presents a year's worth of activities, events, and finances to the Zoo Museum Board
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The Zoo-Museum District board is giving the Saint Louis Science Center a greatly improved bill of health. In the past five years the institution has reduced its debt from millions to a few hundred thousand dollars.

“There’s been a vast improvement,” said ZMD board member Charles Valier. 

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.

Images 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.

photo of frances levine
From video by Nancy Fowler

Two months into her role as president of the Missouri History Museum, Frances Levine is making her presence known as she works to move past the controversy surrounding her predecessor.

Former museum president Robert Archibald resigned in 2012 amid questions about his compensation and the purchase of contaminated land on Delmar Boulevard.

Levine spoke with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about the future of the museum.

Museum Governance and Transparency

Courtesy of Portfolio Gallery

A member of the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District board is reviving the prospect of a new subdistrict of black arts organizations.

An amendment to House Bill 186, passed by the Missouri legislature in 2005, allows the creation of the African American History Museum and Cultural District. But adding it to the ZMD would have to be approved by popular vote — and an election can cost  up to $1 million — so the issue has languished for nine years.

meeting with science center
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

The controversy over a contract between the St. Louis Science Center and a design firm doesn’t seem to be going away.

In April, Zoo-Museum District board member Pat Whitaker resigned following conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from the Science Center awarding a contract to Arcturis, a company she founded.

On Thursday, ZMD board member Charles Valier again criticized Science Center dealings with the firm at a budget-presentation meeting at the Center.

Thomas Campbell
Provided by the Zoo Museum District

Members of a committee charged with reviewing the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District’s ethics code ended their first meeting Monday on a harmonious note.

The ZMD Board met at the St. Louis Art Museum May 8.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

  Everyone on the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District board agrees its ethics code should be re-evaluated. But the question of who should review it has become a heated internal debate.

During a recent meeting, board chair Thelma Cook asked board members Tom Campbell, Ben Uchitelle and Charles Valier to serve on a committee to examine the ethics policy. Cook named Campbell the committee chair.