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Report calls for new leadership structure at L.A. Zoo

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Zoo is in need of a new governing model and other reforms, as the current leadership structure has resulted in an institution that does not live up to its full potential, according to a report issued April 25 by City Controller Ron Galperin.

“Amid staffing shortages, infrastructure challenges and budget limitations, the Los Angeles Zoo has fostered an appreciation for wildlife and educated generations of young people and adults,” Galperin said. “But more can be done to go beyond the status quo. The question is not whether change is needed at the zoo, but what form it will take. By implementing my recommendations, the zoo will best be able to ensure the welfare of the zoo’s diverse and unique plants and animals so future generations of animal lovers can continue enjoying one of L.A.’s most beloved places.”

The zoo is a City Council-controlled department that was created by an ordinance. A citizen Board of Zoo Commissioners advises the zoo’s general manager, who is responsible for control and management of the Zoo Department, while the nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association manages some programs related to zoo memberships, fundraising, marketing and other areas.

Galperin’s report said the zoo association does not publicly post its detailed financial transactions, only more general financial reports, but should begin to provide the details of its operational revenue and expense transactions online, which would be more in line with how the city operates.

The report also said that both the zoo and the association need to develop better performance metrics, and to clarify and consolidate a number of memorandums that outline their operating agreements. Galperin said the agreements have “created ambiguity and inconsistencies.”

Galperin’s report also says the city and zoo would be better served by a different governing model, and pointed to both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Natural History Museum as examples to consider.

The Museum of Art is run by a nonprofit under a 99-year contract with the county, while the director remains a county employee and is also the CEO of the nonprofit. The Natural History Museum is also run by a nonprofit with some of its leadership appointed directly by the county Board of Supervisors, according to Galperin’s report.

Zoo Director John Lewis told City News Service he welcomed the report and agreed with many of its recommendations.

“We are actually pretty comfortable with the report,” Lewis said. “It covers a number of issues we’ve been dealing with for a number of years and have brought up before in regard to the multitude of agreements between the city and [the zoo assocation], and the ordinance that forms the zoo. There’s so many of them and they overlap,” Lewis said.

Lewis also said he was agreeable to the idea of changing the governance structure and some other ideas outlined in the report, which can be found at www.lacontroller.org/LAZooReport.

The zoo association issued a statement saying it also welcomed some of the proposals and was open to having a discussion on them.

“Our unique model has been successful, but we concur with the city controller that there are areas for improvement,” the statement said. The association “is committed to creating a more streamlined, more effective and transparent contractual structure for the zoo … to ensure both organizations are adequately funded and professionally and financially sustainable.

The zoo association said it “already has moved proactively on implementing several of the recommended measures [posting financial information] and looks forward to working with our zoo partners and the city to address other recommendations.”

 

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