The Franklin County commissioners have adopted a official resolution reminding the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium of its obligation to make sure the proper spending of taxpayer-authorized levy pounds.
It was a reprimand of sorts, following revelations introduced to light in March by The Dispatch about improper use of zoo sources by now-previous Columbus Zoo CEO and President Tom Stalf, now-former Main Economical Officer Greg Bell and two other former executives that value the zoo at minimum $631,000.
“Given what’s happened about the previous calendar year or so with regard to the zoo, we’re getting every motion that we can to guarantee that that does not materialize all over again and that we’re defending our contribution to the levy bucks to the zoo to the ideal of our talents,” Commissioner Kevin Boyce advised The Dispatch immediately after Tuesday’s meeting. “This makes it possible for us to proceed to be more deliberate about that oversight.”
Commissioner John O’Grady extra that “the nonpublic sector appointees to the (zoo) board need to be reminded that, in excess of the final 50 decades, almost $1 billion in taxpayer funds has been invested into the zoo… It is the community’s asset, and we do not want any person to forget about that.”
Among the other difficulties, The Dispatch investigation uncovered that Stalf and Bell for decades sought tickets paid by the zoo’s marketing and advertising division so their family members could show up at many amusement gatherings for free. Both equally males also arranged for family users to are living in residences owned or controlled by the zoo and established the rental costs at under industry rates, the newspaper documented.
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The findings prompted the zoo’s board of directors to employ an outdoors accounting company, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP to conduct a official audit evaluation of zoo investing and procedures. Among other issues, the evaluation uncovered Stalf utilized zoo cash to purchase a leisure vehicle for his exclusive use and took it to Place-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie for a family members excursion. He also individually picked the seller for a $2 million cabins development project at The Wilds, a non-public, non-income safari park and conservation center for wild animals near Cumberland in Muskingum County that is managed by the Columbus Zoo, and did not seek out aggressive bidding.
A different forensic audit executed in the months next the executives’ resignations also described “an in general culture of entitlement” among the zoo executives.
The audit concluded, nevertheless, that there was no misuse of the zoo’s levy cash, which accounted for about 20% of the zoo’s all round profits of nearly $92 million in 2019.
Assistant County Prosecutor Jeanine Hummer reported Tuesday that the commissioners have the authority to spot the zoo levy right before voters. It was last on the ballot during the 2015 typical election and handed by a vast margin, with approximately 76% of voters approving the .75-mil renewal levy.
According to the Franklin County Auditor’s Office environment, the levy presently expenses home homeowners about $16 for each $100,000 of valuation. Final calendar year, it resulted in nearly $19.8 million in taxes, and this year collections achieved practically $20 million.
Hummer mentioned the levy has produced a full of $113.7 million around the previous six a long time for the zoo. Beneath present agreements, the investing of those levy resources call for oversight and approval from an 18-member board, with 6 associates appointed every by the county, the city of Columbus and the zoo, she said.
“This is a separate physique that has regulate more than these levy cash,” Hummer said. “This resolution sets forth and reaffirms the authority that was place forth in a binding, contractual agreement with the Columbus Zoological (Park) Affiliation, to permit this appointed board to approve any expenditure relevant to these levy funds. We are below today to make absolutely sure the community understands that and to reaffirm what was place forth in that binding agreement.”
By Tuesday’s resolution, the board of commissioners formally acknowledged the “historical and ongoing economic support to the Columbus Zoological Park Association by the provision of the levy proceeds,” and the commissioners’ expectation “that all levy cash transferred to the association shall on a yearly basis be expended only just after affirmative acceptance.”
Boyce described the resolution as “financial prudence on our component.”
“We are getting the detailed training course of action, guaranteeing the levy bucks are remaining appropriated and utilised in the proper way,” he said. “You can hope us to be a minimal more deliberate with the zoo likely forward about the distribution of those cash. They’ve received to get paid that confidence, not just with the board of commissioners, but with the public.”
Boyce later additional that the commissioners “have a solemn duty to the community to do every thing we can to guard people resources and how they are utilized and assure that it doesn’t materialize all over again, at minimum with levy funds.”