For months, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has argued that leadership, not location, has been behind the decline of the Jackson Zoological Park.
After news broke that former zoo head Beth Poff had misused nearly $350,000 in state bond money to keep the park afloat, it appears he may be partially right.
Recently, the former executive director resigned after she admitted to dipping into the bond proceeds to help cover park operations.
The news came months after the Jackson Zoological Society board of directors voted to study moving the zoo to Northeast Jackson.
In a July 26 letter sent to the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), Poff admitted as much, but blamed everyone and everything for the poor decision – except herself.
She said the zoo was forced to use the bond proceeds because of negative publicity, a lack of public support and bad weather.
“Because of recent publicity, a decline in attendance, an unusually rainy spring season, a decline in field trips, and various other reasons, we have had to make very tough management decisions,” she wrote.
Poff said the money would be repaid once the zoo received its bi-annual allocation from the city, and we believe that.
There was no ill intent behind the misuse, and Poff likely had her employees’ and animals’ well-being in mind.
That being said, dipping into the bond funds was a poor decision, at best.
Further, it’s a decision that will probably affect the zoo’s ability to borrow in the future. Additionally, Jackson, not the zoo, will likely be on the hook for paying the bonds back.
However, the misuse of bond funds doesn’t fall solely at Poff’s feet.
The zoo is managed by the Jackson Zoological Society, which is governed by a 13-member board of directors.
Several questions remain. Did the board know about the misspending? If not, why not? Shouldn’t they be regularly reviewing the financials?
Further, board members are refusing to answer questions about the zoo’s current financial situation. Members previously contacted by the Sun wouldn’t talk and referred all questions to Poff.
And after Poff’s resignation, a press release was issued stating board president Jeffrey Graves wouldn’t take interviews.
The society’s silence during this crisis appears to show a lack of leadership.
Little wonder Mayor Lumumba supports new management. The mayor told the press recently he was eager about finding a new group to oversee the zoo and currently seeking requests for proposals..
While the Sun still supports moving the zoo, it’s clear that new leadership at the West Jackson park is needed.