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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

Financial details are lacking, panel says

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When it comes to zoo finances, the information is coming at a trickle or not at all.

Members of the county task force charged with examining the Toledo Zoo s finances, who once touted the zoo s cooperation, said yesterday that they are now frustrated with what they are getting.

Before they were giving us what we asked for. Now they re saying they ll get back to us. It s indicative of there not being anything to give us. My antennae are up, said Stan McCormick, chairman of the task force s finance committee.

The task force was charged by Lucas County commissioners in March to examine zoo operations after the firing of Dr. Tim Reichard, the zoo s head veterinarian the past 22 years, and the subsequent public outcry.

One area being examined is how the zoo manages its money.

But in many cases, the finance subcommittee has received one or two-page summary documents where they said they had

hoped for more specifically in the area of zoo budgets, audits, and written policies.

Toledo city auditor Daniel Hiskey, who is serving as an unpaid consultant for the committee, said he asked zoo officials for detailed budgets, complete with categorized charts, but received one-page summaries yesterday.

Thank you, I appreciate that, but there s no level of detail in a one-page summary, he said.

And when it came to the zoo external audits, Mr. McCormick, a small business owner and business consultant, said he was concerned about the paucity of information.

Since it s a public institution, that audit should be more thorough than a one and a half page summary document ... There should be a lot more meat on those bones, Mr. McCormick said. I want to know who wrote the scope [of the audit] for them.

Of particular concern to the committee was a lack of written policy provided regarding such areas as travel and entertainment, vehicle use, internal auditing, and how spending is authorized.

In some cases, zoo officials replied that information will be forwarded at a later date and in others provided information about policies currently in the works.

They are writing policies as we speak, said task force member Doug Young, referring to a new vehicle-usage policy before the board.

Many, Mr. Hiskey said.

As an example, Mr. Hiskey pointed to a document received from the zoo addressing the authorization of purchases. The document, an undated e-mail from zoo Director of Finance Allison Duncan sent to unnamed zoo employees, appeared to be a request to zoo departments for information.

Since we have some new staff in the finance area, there has been some confusion regarding authorized signatures for purchases and check requests. Some departments require department head approval ... and some allow any permanent staff ... to approve invoices.

The document goes on to ask department heads questions, including: Who in your department is authorized to approve invoices for payment? ... What is the dollar limit for each signer?

Mr. Hiskey said it appeared from the document that the zoo has no formal, written policy for such purchases.

Somebody asked me before the meeting, Are you finding anything they re not supposed to be spending money on? I said, I don t know what they re supposed to be spending money on, he said.

Ms. Duncan could not be reached for comment.

There are normal, internal-control procedures in place in the zoo, said Gary Smith, chairman of the zoo board s finance committee. I can t tell you if there are written policies on everything.

But Mr. McCormick and his committee were skeptical.

We can assume that there is no current policy with regards to these areas. We ve asked, and they have not provided them. If they re going to go and create one [on the spot], that means there is none right now, he said.

This is sad, said committee member Doug Young.

In the end, Mr. McCormick said, it s also not clear to him where the buck stops regarding zoo finances.

I don t know who s in charge. You have the director of finance, Allison Duncan, and then you have the [zoo board s] finance committee that meets twice a year. Is there somebody that I m missing? Mr. McCormick said. There just doesn t seem to be much hands-on from an overview standpoint with regards to the board.

Now there is, though, all of the sudden.

Board member Larry Conway, a retired dean of the University of Toledo s department of business administration known for consistent criticism of the zoo during committee meetings, was more strident in his objections.

Never in my whole professional career have I seen such bad reports. Absolutely miserable. Doesn t make any difference what area that you look at at the zoo, it s a cesspool, an absolute cesspool, Mr. Conway said. I don t know if I ve been working on this too much or what.

Mr. Hiskey said he d just like the zoo to be open and honest about any shortcomings, if they exist.

Don t be out there scurrying to write [new policies]. If you don t have them, just tell us, he said. Let s just get this done, and then we ll talk about helping [the zoo] and making recommendations. That s where I want to go with this.

Contact Tad Vezner at:tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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