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Report Critical Of ZMD Adopted By St. Louis Aldermanic Committee, Debated By ZMD

Robert Lowery (far right), a board member for the St. Louis Zoo-Musuem Distrct, at a board meeting in January 2014.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

A report sharply criticizing St. Louis’ Zoo-Museum District (ZMD) was adopted by the parks committee of the city’s board of aldermen Thursday.

Alderman Joe Roddy, parks committee chair, released a draft of the report this week following a year of investigation.

Discussion of the draft also led to heated exchanges at a Thursday meeting of the ZMD board, which was scheduled as a training about board governance. The verbal scuffle began when board member Charles Valier said the Roddy report, on the heels of a recent circuit attorney’s report and media criticism, raises the ZMD’s troubles to an alarming level.

“We are in essence, an entity in crisis,” Valier said.

But board member Robert Lowery disagreed that the ZMD’s difficulties are that extreme. Lowery told St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon that the board has been very effective during the past few years in its scrutiny of its five institutions.

He pointed to ZMD audits of the Science Center and the Missouri History Museum that shook those institutions and led to leadership changes.

“We’ve addressed those issues at the History Museum and I think we did it very vigorously and we addressed the issues at the Science Center, so I think this commission is doing its job, overall,” Lowery said.

Valier and board members Gloria Wessels and Jerome Glick have been outspoken proponents for change in the ZMD and its institutions, which also include the Botanical Garden, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Zoo. But Wessels was not present at Thursday’s meeting and Glick has been replaced by new member Patricia Whitaker, a decision made by St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

So it was Valier, alone, who challenged the other board members in the session. He told them that if the training’s purpose was to address the board’s actions and decisions going forward, then, “We cannot ignore that the public has condemned us.”

“It is the reality, and we have to do something about it because in many quarters in this community, we’re in disrespect,” Valier said.

Board member Thomas Campbell said it’s the division within the board that is a pressing issue. Campbell blamed Valier and the others for an escalation of issues with regard to the History Museum. He said the fractured board did “unnecessary and excessive damage to the History Museum and to the other cultural institutions.”

Campbell then pointed to the ZMD’s Science Center audit, which took place before Valier became a board member.

“There was not a minority that was inflaming the situation, there was a collective consensus that there was a problem at the Science Center,” Campbell said.

The ZMD will respond to the Roddy report within 90 days, as requested, according to several board members.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: NancyFowlerSTL

See also: History lesson: How the ZMD and History Museum got to where they are today

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.