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ZMD Ethics Committee Debate Spills Into Board 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.

“My question still is what do we do with a situation if we interpret it as a violation,” she said. Board Member Ben Utichelle shared her concern that the board response needed to be included in proposed language.

Board member Charles Valier agreed that the question of accountability and authoritative response needs to be addressed.

“You can be a board member, and you can violate one of these provisions in article 4, it can be disclosed by you, and there’s no authority for anyone here to do anything,” he said.

Valier suggested stronger language that would also tie sub-districts like the Botanical Garden and the Missouri History Museum to the ZMD’s code of ethics. Valier said the ZMD should set an example for sub-districts. Board member and Ethics Committee Chair Tom Campbell disagreed.

“I’m not comfortable mandating things for the sub-districts that we don’t have the authority to mandate,” said Campbell. Campbell also restated his belief that additional financial disclosures, as favored by Valier, were government overreach and would be prohibitive to potential board members in the future.

Despite differences, members of the board agree the proposed language at least sets guidelines for what is acceptable behavior and what is not.; Agreed upon language says board members, their spouses, children, or affiliated businesses cannot do business with the ZMD or sub-districts. If this language is adopted these people and entities will also be barred from accepting money from businesses in order to lobby on their behalf for work with the ZMD.

As debate continues, it’s unlikely the board will meet its earlier goal to approve a new ethics code by January.

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