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ZMD says new way to review subdistricts is more rigorous, former board member isn't so sure

Images from zoo museum district entities
File photos and Wikipedia

New questions are being raised regarding the Zoo Museum District and how it evaluates subdistricts. Former Board Member Gloria Wessels is concerned the ZMD’s examinations aren't in depth enough.

“The way they look over the budgets now is just cursory,” she said.

Current board member and Audit Committee Chairperson Robert Eggmann says the new procedures are more rigorous in some ways.

"For the suggestion to be made by anybody that this is an attempt to let the institutions off easy is ludicrous. This is an attempt to drill down deeper on important issues," said Eggmann, who characterized this year’s approach as “more invasive.”

Wessels says she is concerned the current evaluation process, which will look at specific procedures in all subdistricts, won’t account for problematic budget issues in the entities. These are the Zoo, the Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Science Center. She says that, by the time the ZMD is able to approve a specific year’s budget, five months may have already passed in that year. But Eggmann says there’s no other real way to pursue the budget process given the ZMD organizational structure.

Previously the ZMD broadly evaluated each subdistrict every five years. The governing institution examined operations, finances and administration. This year the ZMD has proposed examining all the subdistricts in four very targeted areas: code of ethics, request-for-proposal process, data protection measures and executive compensation practices. The ZMD board says this new approach was developed in response to concerns raised by the public, the press and previous board members, in recent years.

Eggmann presented a memo outlining the new procedure to the board at a regularly scheduled meeting. The explanation of procedures for each area of focus follows. (KEB is Kerber, Eck & Braeckel LLP, which conducts the evaluation on behalf of the ZMD.

Fraud and Data Protection. The last time this was looked at very specifically, was approximately 2005-06 and this area has changed dramatically in those 10 years. It would be our request that KEB take a close look at each of the institution’s policies regarding the safekeeping of data obtained from employees, members of the public, and donors. In addition, we will ask that KEB look at mechanisms in place for curtailing both internal and external fraud. Finally, we would KEB to look into procedures used for terminating employees regarding passwords, combinations and the like.

The Request-for-Proposal Process. KEB will analyze the RFP process, in particular when it comes to vendor contracts and the provision of professional services. We want to make sure that the process is fair to all parties and that it does not weigh in favor of the vendor or professional currently providing services to the specific organization. We would ask KEB to suggest possible procedures to put in place to make sure the process is fair to all parties and the process takes place within a reasonable timeframe.

Compensation of Executives. KEB will analyze the compensation process for executives for each of the institutions. We would ask KEB to analyze the manner in which they determine if their compensation process is in compliance with the IRS Code as well as similar to similarly situated institutions throughout the United States.

Rules of Ethics. KEB would analyze and determine if the rules of ethics at each of the institutions parallel in spirit of the new rules of ethics approved by the ZMD.

The board received Eggmann’s memo and agreed to move forward with their new approach during its meeting.