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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zoo construction: "a train out of control"

It seems that Metro can't even run the zoo without screwing up. But the taxpayers keep handing them play money with one bond after another. Leave it to the zookeepers to be good at fleecing the sheep.

Comments (9)

Why am I not surprised?

BTW, some of the comments on the O's website are pretty spot on. Example:

the only thing missing from this story is the names of the people who got fired.

I think WW covered that here, though the people "resigned".

Standard operating procedure.

Money laundering, tax evasion and no accountability.

5 years ago and no change http://www.oregonmetro.gov/files/about/zoo0904.pdf


September 20, 2004

• Revenue from some Zoo activities was improperly sent to the Foundation and returned to the Zoo, which

treated it as a donation to avoid paying Metro excise taxes on the revenue.

• The Zoo Director entered into unauthorized contracts that the Foundation paid, subjecting Metro to

financial and legal risk.

• Zoo financial records have not properly reflected donations as well as revenues and costs for some

projects and activities.

• The Zoo is not receiving adequate compensation for benefits provided to Foundation members.

• Required information is not coming to Metro about the Foundation’s financial activities, plans and

accomplishments, weakening effective oversight and the ability to make budgetary decisions affecting the


Our report makes several recommendations for improving Metro’s system of management controls over the

relationship. Metro Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan’s response to specific recommendations is at the

end of the report. Mr. Jordan agrees with most recommendations; however, we are concerned that he

disagrees with our recommendation to take appropriate action to hold the Zoo Director accountable for

departures from Metro’s contracting requirements. Such action is essential if Metro is to maintain an

environment that fosters conscientious management, integrity and accountability.

Times have changed since the days of Jack Marks, zoo director from 1947 to 1971. He oversaw the construction of the new zoo, the railroad, the children's zoo, the establishment of the penguin exhibit (involving a trip to Antarctica in the late 50s), and the birth of Packy. I interviewed him as part of a class project a year before he retired and he was very bitter.

"They could have Sally Rand here without a bubble and no one would come," he muttered.

I had no idea who he was talking about until I got home and asked the folks.

I had to Google Sally Rand....

It sounds to me that they were underestimating the costs in order to get their funding approved. But who was previewing the estimates? No money for fencing to keep the lions away from the kiddos? Either it was deliberate fraud or abject incompetence.

It wasn't waste or incompetance. The money was diverted and expended in a planned deliberate way. It's only the stories they cooked up afterward about it that make them seem incompetant. Don't be fooled. Organized crime is alive and well and living in Portland.

Hmmm. Good thing we just voted them a bunch more money. Wonder how that will be spent?

I am sure they can just tax the rich and businesses some more to bail them out.

The prior Metro Auditor issued a report in 2001 that identified many of the same issues and recommendations contained in the audit report issued this week. The prior audit's recommendations were ignored by the Metro Councilors because most of them personally despised that Auditor. It was inevitable that failing to fix the internal control weaknesses first noted in 2001 would eventually lead to big trouble for the zoo.

Rex Burkholder was one of the Councilors who opposed action on the 2001 audit recommendations. He is apparently running for Metro Council President in 2010.

I'd be more mad about the zoo, but then I think:

WES costs $33/boarding ride. At just over 1,000 rides per day, that translates to a loss of about $700,000 **PER MONTH**. TriMet loses more money just on WES in six months than the Zoo lost in how many years?

WES was sold to the public as an $80 million project. The "final" budget was $117.5 million. The final cost, after TriMet's bailout of Colorado Railcar, cost overruns, grossly mis-calculating the cost to buy the northern portion of the railroad, so on and so forth, was a whopping $166 million - over 200% of the original estimate.

We could have funded all sorts of misadventures at the zoo with just one relatively small (by TriMet standards, when the recent MAX projects have come to close a half-billion dollars each) transit project. And frankly the zoo does more for our region, our economy, our children, and our culture, than WES will ever do in its lifetime. Oh, and the Zoo is at least open 364 days a year. WES is only open six hours a day, weekday rush hours only. And the zoo also attracts those visitors even though they have to shell out $10.50 just to walk through the front door, while WES barely attracts enough folks willing to pay the measly $2.35 to ride.

Yet...Metro never audits how TriMet spends the regional transportation dollars handed from Metro to TriMet.

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