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El Paso Zoological Society says it remains committed to transparency, working with city leaders


Update (May 23, 2024): The El Paso Zoological Society, in a news release sent out Thursday, May 23, 2024, says that it is working to prepare for an audit and is willing to collaborate with the City, but that it believes the City's May 24th deadline is impractical and it urges the City to "reconsider its demands."

Society leaders say they remain committed to transparency and still want to do a "mutual audit" of both the Society and the Zoo. They also claim that they have not been given the opportunity to give its side to City Council and offers to meet with City leadership "to address outstanding issues."

The Society is also addressing Zoo Director Joe Montisano's purported claim that the termination of the relationship between the City and the Society led the City to gain $1.6 million. Society leadership calls this claim "categorically false."

The Society adds that the termination of the relationship has negatively impacted its ability to get donations and, therefore, serve its purpose.

ABC-7 is choosing to include the Zoological Society's news release in full below:

"The El Paso Zoological Society is issuing this press release to address recent statements made by Zoo Director Joe Montisano and to correct misinformation circulating in the media and within the City of El Paso.

In a recent news article, Zoo Director Joe Montisano purportedly claimed that the termination of the relationship between the El Paso Zoological Society and the City resulted in a financial gain of $1.6 million for the City. The El Paso Zoological Society would like to clarify that this information is categorically false. The Society does not possess anywhere near $1.6 million in funds. Furthermore, the termination of the agreement between El Paso Zoological Society and the City has negatively impacted the Society's ability to secure donations, with significant pledged funds being rescinded following the City's announcement. This includes a $500,000 donation to be used for the Dinosaur Zoo Show that was returned to the donor upon the donor’s request, and another donor informing the Society that it no longer desired to disburse a $75,000 donation commitment for the animal medical clinic.

The El Paso Zoological Society remains committed to transparency and is willing to engage in a mutual audit of both El Paso Zoological Society and Zoo funds to dispel any misconceptions the City may have regarding the Society's financial status. Additionally, the Society wishes to correct the assertion that 75% of its funds are allocated to operating expenses and salaries, which is inaccurate.

Despite repeated attempts, the El Paso Zoological Society has not been afforded the opportunity to present its perspective to the City Council, which made decisions regarding the license agreement behind closed doors. The Society extends an invitation to the City Council to meet with the El Paso Zoological Society board of directors to address outstanding issues and provide clarity on the situation. 

The Society reiterates its offer to mediate any disputes in a neutral and confidential setting.

Furthermore, the El Paso Zoological Society disputes a quote attributed to its lawyer, Elisaveta Dolghih, in the City's May 20th press release. The attorney never made the statement attributed to her, and the supposed quote misrepresents the Society's intentions regarding the use of funds for the benefit of the Zoo. The El Paso Zoological Society has consistently expressed its willingness to donate funds for Zoo needs, provided that the City commits to the funds being used in accordance with donors' intent. 

The Society's straightforward donation agreement remains on the table for the City's consideration.

In response to the City's ultimatum for an audit by May 24th, the El Paso Zoological Society acknowledges the impracticality of meeting this deadline and urges the City Council to reconsider its demands. 

The Society is in the process of preparing for an audit and is willing to collaborate with the City to facilitate this process.

The El Paso Zoological Society reiterates its commitment to resolving the current dispute amicably and urges the City to engage in constructive dialogue to reach a mutually beneficial resolution."

El Paso Zoological Society

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- The City of El Paso says that the El Paso Zoological Society's claims that it has agreed to a full "mutual audit" are "factually untrue."

"It is factually untrue, that the City has not directly communicated to the Society of our request for a full accounting," City leaders stated.

ABC-7 reported Monday that the Zoological Society said it accepted the City's "offer" to conduct a "mutual audit." After our report, the City responded saying that it tried on two separate occasions to contact the Society's lawyers about a "full accounting," and that the Society rejected the City's offer on May 16, 2024.

The City Council voted to cut ties with the Zoological Society Monday. The City allowed the official contract between the two to expire in March.

The City claims that the Society has not maintained records of financial transactions.

"According Section 9 of the agreement, the Society is required to 'maintain complete and accurate records of all its financial transactions' and provide the City Manager 'the right to examine or audit such records at any time or require the Society to have financial records reviewed by a certified public accountant.'”

The City says that on February 16, 2024, the City Comptroller requested the detailed financial information. The City claims that in response, Society leaders sent information that did not turn out to be the requested financial information.

The City says the Society has until May 24, 2024 to do the following things:

  1. "Provide financial review for fiscal year 2023 by external auditors and general ledger detail information of all accounts for the past three years. (This information was requested February 16, 2024 by City Comptroller Margarita Marin; on February 27, 2024, by Deputy City Manager Dionne Mack; on March 20, 2024, by City Attorney Karla Nieman; and on April 19, 2024, by Interim City Manager Cary Westin)."
  1. "Pursuant to Section 3(a) of the agreement, provide all membership funds for zoo development, marketing, operation, education, conservation, and promotion."
  1. "Provide all funds raised for membership funds, invitational events, Society sponsored events (i.e., funds to be used for Zoo betterment or Society sponsored projects as per Section 3(b) of the agreement, referencing the 2024 Audit by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.)"
  1. "Provide funds collected from donors intended for specific purposes at the El Paso Zoo, including those solicited from City employees for specific projects."
  1. "Provide all funds raised in support of the Zoo's Master Plan as per Article 10 of the agreement."
  1. "Provide funds raised via concessions intended for conservation efforts, including the 'round-up' donations by zoo visitors."
  1. "Provide certifications of liability insurance, general liability insurance, and insurance against employee dishonesty as required by Sections 3(k) through 3(m) of the agreement. Include all policy information for the last three years of the agreement period."
Article Topic Follows: El Paso

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Tyaun Marshburn

Tyaun Marshburn is a multimedia journalist


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