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ZMD Ethics Code Finally Moves Forward

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.

The Code of Ethics Committee and full Zoo Museum District Board voted unanimously to present the proposed new language to both the mayor and county executive’s office for review. Valier said he was pleased with the outcome but wished for additional financial disclosure from board members. After the language is approved by the mayor and county executive, or additional suggestions are made, the code will return to the ZMD Board, which will vote it into being. This process was approved during the board’s first meeting of the year.

The new code will include provisions that any possible conflict of interest be immediately reported to the ZMD Board. That report will be shared with both the mayor and county executive’s offices. The appointing executive would then have the ability to decide how to proceed with disciplinary action.

The ZMD board will require members with possible conflicts of interest to recuse themselves from voting on matters where that conflict lies but is independently unable to remove board members.

Ben Uchitelle presented the board’s position as a hypothesis. “All we can do is say, 'Hey, you can’t vote on the issue.' We can’t say 'Mrs. Smith you have to get off the ZMD,'" he said. 

In the proposed language, no ZMD Board member, ZMD employee, spouses, or their children may profit from or have a contractual relationship with the Zoo Museum District or subdistricts. They will also be restricted from profiting from advocating on behalf of a third party for contractual work. 

During the meeting, the board welcomed two new members, Christine Chadwick and Michelle Harris.  They also voted to approve the board’s preliminary administrative budget for 2015, which projects a $74 million tax collection, which after expenses would mean that roughly $73.5 million would be distributed to the subdistricts.

The next subdistrict that will have its financial and operational condition evaluated will be the Missouri Botanical Garden. These evaluations at the Science Center and the Missouri History Museum raised concerns regarding conflicts of interest, mishandling of funds, and appropriate compensation for top executives.

Board Member Ben Uchitelle also acknowledged that his seven-year appointment was up, but no successor to the board was named, leaving him to serve in his current position until the county executive decides to appoint a new member.