Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zoo + Zoo = One

Here in Minnesota our state constitution mandates that the legislature must adjourn by May 19 so with less than a month to go before we taxpayers are safe again the final legislative pieces of the puzzle are being determined. One perfect example is the "bonding bill" whereby the State of Minnesota issues bonds to pay for a wide variety of projects around the state. During this year's session our two major zoos -- Como Park Zoo and the Minnesota Zoo -- pursued $41 million but only received $2.5 million after the legislative process.

Now I love zoos and I love writing personal checks for projects I believe in so when I read this news in today's newspaper I was not troubled at all. My family has visited Como Park Zoo several times along with the Minnesota Zoo (www.mnzoo.com) which is only two miles from our home so we are active users of these facilities. However several factors --

Lead me to conclude that these two zoos need to think beyond simply lobbying the state legislature for more taxpayer money. Let me offer an idea that I haven't seen any legislator pursue this year -- the City of St. Paul should divest the Como Zoo as a city-owned asset and combine it with the Minnesota Zoo into one entity that is not only stronger but would also benefit from the syngeries/cost savings that would result from combining these entities' management teams, marketing efforts, "friends of the zoo" networks, access to exhibits, etc. On a personal note I know the Minnesota Zoo can do better in terms of managing its volunteers since I have volunteered three different times and also asked three different times regarding the possibility of them bringing back their 5K "Zoo Run" fundraising event but I have NEVER been contacted -- not a great way to build public support I have to say.

This would allow the City of St. Paul to focus on basic, essential government functions -- fixing pot holes (that could be privatized too but I will give them that one), law enforcement, and fire prevention -- versus running a zoo and conservatory. Yes I realize there are numerous political turf issues and "access" issues since Como Park Zoo is "free of charge" (nothing is free of course since taxpayers pick up the tab of course) but we need to expect our public entity leadership to think beyond their current strategy of lobbying the state government for more of our money.

Don't feed the animals,


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