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St. Louis Board of Aldermen looking at executive pay in the Zoo-Museum District

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By Adan Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is investigating pay levels for the CEOs of five of the city's premier cultural institutions: the Zoo, the History Museum, the Art Museum, Botanical Garden, and the Science Center.

In total, $72 million in taxpayer funds flows to these institutions through the Zoo Museum District.

Amid a major budget deficit, some aldermen would like to know more about executive salaries approaching $400,000. That does not include pension plans and other compensation.

Alderman Joe Roddy chairs the parks committee, which confirms appointments the institution's boards. Roddy says the compensation packages offered to some CEOs seems arbitrary.

In particular, Roddy cites the Missouri History Museum, which has a much smaller budget and attendance than the Zoo, but its CEO, Bob Archibald, makes more than the zoo director.

"And then I take a look and I think about the self-perpetuating boards and that the history museum has a board that doesn't have any control over compensation or anything else out there," says Roddy. "And it makes me wonder, how does somebody like [Bob Archibald] make $387,000 and the guy running the zoo [Jeffery Bonner] make $367,000."

Roddy says factors such as attendance, budget, staff levels and fundraising ability appear to be out of sync with some salaries.

Bob Archibald, who's also a regular commentator on St. Louis Public Radio, declined to comment on Roddy's query.

The Science Center in particular has nine vice presidents, many of whom are paid more than $150,000 per year.

But J. Patrick Dougherty, the ZMD's executive director says good salaries are needed to attract good leaders.

"You know, are they concerned about fund raising? Are they paying for an educational level, a national reputation?" notes Dougherty.

"Are they paying for expertise in a particular field? Those are all the subjective things that you just can't pick out of a form 990."

The aldermanic parks committee threatened to subpoena Dougherty after he declined earlier requests to meet.

Dougherty says there is nothing illegal about any of the compensation packages, and the five institutions in question are among the most popular attractions in the city.

The board of aldermen is considering a deeper investigation of the ZMD and its governing boards.

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