Beth Poff

Jackson to begin zoo management search next week

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson city officials expect to begin their search for a new zoo management firm next week.

The city’s legal department was doing a final review of a request for proposals (RFP) today and was expected to issue the request next week, said Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine.

The move comes in the wake of more bad news for the zoo. On Wednesday, the Jackson Zoological Society’s executive committee asked longtime Executive Director Beth Poff to step down.

The full society board of directors was expected to meet Friday or Monday to determine Poff's future.

Poff has been director for more than a decade.

The news also comes after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s administration revealed yesterday that the zoo had been dipping into its debt service funds to make payroll.

“They have essentially $350,000 that they pay on annual bond debt. What they were doing was taking money out of debt service and using that to pay salaries, which is illegal,” Blaine said.

The zoo was putting the money back after they received their bi-annual allocation from the city. Under the current management agreement with the society, the city contributes at least $880,000 a year to the zoo.

For fiscal year 2019, the city allocated $980,000 to the zoo. The funds are paid in the first and third quarter of the year, Blaine said.

Yesterday, the city council voted to give the zoo an additioanl $200,000 to help the park make it through the end of the budget year.

Recently, the zoo announced that it was cutting pay for salaried employees by half and reducing pay for hourly workers to $8 an hour.

While Poff said employees would stay on even with the cuts, Blaine said some have already left. 

Meanwhile, the city continues to look at options for transitioning into a new management firm.

One option proposed at a special city council meeting on Thursday included temporarily closing the zoo to the public until a new management team is in place.

“A process of transitioning would be between three and six months,” he said. “There are several options we’re looking at (for) the transition period.”

Blaine said no employees would lose their jobs during the transition, even if the zoo is temporarily closed. 

If the RFP is posted next week, firms will have 30 days to submit proposals. From there, proposals will be evaluated, applicants will be interviewed, and a recommendation will be taken to the council for approval.

That process could take two to three months.

The firm selected would replace the Jackson Zoological Society, which has managed the park for years.

Lumumba proposed searching for a new team after the society announced that it was looking to move the zoo to North Jackson.

The zoo is located at 2918 W. Capitol St.

Poff was not immediately available for comment.

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