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Zoo Museum District approves new, much-debated code of ethics

(Courtesy: St. Louis Science Center)

Updated 3:14 p.m., Oct. 29 with the board's final approval - It took 18 months of tension, but the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District has unanimously approved the board’s new code of ethics. The previous code was less than 10 years old but found insufficient after a conflict of interest arose involving the Science Center and a ZMD board member.

According to board member Tom Campbell the new code makes three main improvements on the old ethics code.

“There's some additional disclosures that will be required, also there’s a procedure now in the event a board member believes they may have a conflict of interest, and a procedure in place if a conflict of interest is determined to exist," he said.

Board member Charles Valier had a stronger opinion.

"This is the difference between night and day from what we had before," he said.

At issue were the level of transparency required, the strength of regulations and guidelines for determining conflicts of interest. St. Louis Public Radio decided to look back at how the ZMD got to a point of agreement and why the new code of ethics matters.

The proposed new code of ethics is embedded below.

What prompted the change?

In late 2012 Missouri History Museum President Robert Archibald stepped down after 24 years of service. He resigned after significant criticism over authorizing a land deal in which the museum grossly overpaid for property on Delmar Boulevard and over his salary and benefits package.

In January 2014, Alderman Joe Roddy, head of the parks committee, released a reportcriticizing ZMD governance. This followed a year-long investigation, instigated in part by Archibald’s actions.

In April 2014, Zoo Museum District board member Pat Whitakerresignedafter it was reported that a design firm she founded won a contract for work with the St. Louis Science Center.

First step

Even forming an Ethics Code Committee was debated, but one was set up in spring 2014 to evaluate code of ethics changes. 

Conflicts over conflict

The Ethics Code Committee’s first meeting reached agreement on what the issues were, but subsequent meetings throughout the year ranged from acrimonious to tense.

Two sides emerged: One, championed by board member Charles Valier, called for stricter regulations and additional disclosures. Another, led by Tom Campbell, insisted that restrictions that were too tight would scare away potential ZMD board members and employees and disclose too much personal information.

The committee met throughout the yearto discuss, rewrite and edit the code before bringing a draft to the greater ZMD board for approval.


In March 2015, Portfolio Gallery Owner and ZMD board member Robert Powell resigned. His decision came after reportsthat Portfolio received compensation from the St. Louis Art Museum for events held at the gallery and that he personally had received a fee from the Missouri Botanical Garden for a consulting trip. 

Out of the board’s hands

Discussions over the language in the code continued among board members up until the time of the vote to send the draft to the county executive and the St. Louis mayor for review. Their legal teams evaluated the language, gave approval and returned the draft to the ZMD board.

The vote and consequences:

The ZMD board voted in favor of the code, which states that all ZMD employees “shall avoid conflicts of interest, and the appearance of conflicts of interest, by adhering to this Code of Ethics.”

  • The new code charges subdistrict trustees, directors and employees with adhering to an ethics code at least as strict as the ZMD's  code. Each subdistrict will need to "adopt policies and procedures to implement the policies contemplated in this code of ethics."
  • Possible code of ethics violations or conflicts of interest must be declared immediately and added to the following ZMD meeting agenda. This will make the possible violation public.
  • Conflicts of interest, or possible conflicts, must be reported to a board member's appointing officer. This action will provide additional oversight and increase awareness with another governing body.
  • The new code limits ZMD or subdistrict board members from serving on more than one board.
  • Going forward contracted services, companies or nonprofits doing business with the ZMD will be selected based on merit and price not personal  or familial connections.
  • Board members will be unable to vote on issues where there may be a conflict of interest
  • Employees will be instructed to disclose the possibility of any conflict along specific guidelines.
  • District employees, board members, commissioners and trustees will be required to annually file financial disclosures that are more detailed than the disclosures previously required.
  • The ZMD board will consider violations of the code while reviewing budgets, setting tax rates and scheduling elections.
  • The ZMD board will use its ethics code to evaluate the performance of subdistricts.

2015 Code of Ethics - Final Draft That Will Be Implimented - Not Signed