Auditors recently wrapped up an investigation of the Jackson Zoo’s finances, and one thing is clear, Beth Poff took one for the team.
Poff is the park’s former executive director. She resigned from the position last year after admitting to misusing $350,000 in state bond funds to cover operations.
However, results of the audit show that the board, too, was complicit in the misuse.
The seven-page draft document was compiled by Bruno and Tervalon LLP, a New Orleans-based group that was hired by the city late last year.
The report states that “the practice of transferring of funds in and out of the restricted improvement fund account was documented in board of directors minutes on almost a monthly basis.”
The zoo is managed by the nonprofit Jackson Zoological Society. Poff answered to the board of directors, who were ultimately responsible for setting and amending the budget.
To that point, auditors state that after budgets were approved “amendments to the budgets were not documented in the minutes.”
Additionally, the board’s finance committee “would often meet and approve budget amendments but no minutes for those meetings were available for our review.”
Given the shaky finances of the zoo, the board and any committees of the board should have meticulously documented their minutes. The failure to do so indicates a haphazard approach to dealing with an impending financial disaster. Boards have one primary duty, to set a budget and ensure it is followed. Clearly, the zoo board failed to do this.
The audit raises more questions than it answers. First, why were finance committee minutes not available for auditors to review? Were minutes taken at those meetings? If not, did the full board know about this? If they did, why did those members not address it?
Further, it’s apparent the board knew about and allowed Poff to misappropriate state bond money. Why are they not being held accountable?
The Lumumba administration is now looking at hiring ZoOceanarium, a new firm, to manage the park. It was unclear what role, if any, the current zoological society would have once the new group is in place.
Either way, let’s hope ZoOceanarium can get the park’s finances in order and provide the oversight that is so desperately needed for one of Jackson’s top tourist attractions.