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What is Hogle Zoo Hiding?

Hogle Zoo is asking the Salt Lake County Council to place a $65 million bond before the voters this November. Although the Zoo’s bond is nearly TWICE the size of the $35 million Real S.L. stadium subsidy, their proposal has faced little scrutiny. A scant 5 years ago, the Legislative Auditor General found serious lapses in the Zoo Board’s judgment. Voters should wonder whether the use of the $65 million bond will be appropriate.

To better understand whether the Zoo Board’s judgment has improved, on July 13 the Utah Taxpayers Association submitted a GRAMA request with the following questions deriving from the Audit.

  1. What is the relationship between the Audit's recommendation regarding the elephant moat, and the elephant water tank the Zoo recently built?
  2. What is the current size of the Zoo (in acres)?
  3. What is the annual capacity of the parking at the Zoo?
  4. How many on-site parking stalls does the Zoo have?
    How many off-site parking stalls does the Zoo have?
  5. Please provide the names and contact information for every member of the Zoo’s Board from 2002 to the present.
  6. What outside contracts has the Zoo let since the 2002 audit?
  7. Who won the outside contracts let by the Zoo since the 2002 audit?
  8. What is the relationship between the Zoo's Board members and the winners of these contracts?
  9. What kind of competitive bid process has the Zoo Board used in evaluating various contract proposals?
  10. What is the Zoo Director’s total compensation package, including salary, home and auto?
  11. How does the Director's total compensation package (salary, home and auto) compare with that of directors at zoos of similar size and who have similar tenure?
  12. What procedures has the Zoo put in place to independently track how ZAP funds and state appropriations are tracked?

Despite annually receiving approximately $1.4 million dollars from the state, and more than $500,000 from the Salt Lake County ZAP Tax, the Zoo Board refused our GRAMA request. The Zoo Board did provide the material they supplied Salt Lake County’s Debt Review Committee and the Salt Lake County Council. This material answers several of our questions; however, they failed to answer others. Our first question is perhaps the most surprising. The 2002 Audit questions whether the elephant moat creates a potential hazard for the elephants. Since then, the Zoo built an elephant water tank, where the elephants could safely play in the water.

This question stems from conversations with current and former Zoo board members, who say that elephants only play in water if trained from infancy to do so. Although these current and former Zoo board members have told us no Hogle Zoo elephant has even gotten in this elephant water tank, the Zoo board did not respond to this question.

Several questions focused on issues the Auditors raised about the suitability of the Zoo’s current site. For several years the Zoo examined the possibility of either expanding into undeveloped portions of This Is The Place Heritage Park, or relocating to another part of the Salt Lake Valley. Although the Auditors found that Hogle Zoo’s current site would be at capacity in just 8 years, the Board rejected both of those options, and is now pressing for a 20 year bond to improve the current site.

Finally, the Zoo’s response suggested at least one more question. On May 22, 2007, the Zoo told the Salt Lake County Council, “The Zoo operates without debt.” In reality, they operate on the debt carried for them by other taxing entities, such as the $10 million bond Salt Lake City approved for the Zoo in 2003, and now the $65 million bond they want from Salt Lake County.

We hope the County Council requires the Zoo to answer these pressing questions before they vote. To gloss them over when so much is at stake is entirely inappropriate.