Duluth City Council approves transfer of Lake Superior Zoo
The Duluth City Council Monday approved the transfer of management of the city zoo to the Lake Superior Zoological Society. The vote had been delayed more than a month while councilors reviewed and requested additional information. "I'm relieved....
The Duluth City Council Monday approved the transfer of management of the city zoo to the Lake Superior Zoological Society.
The vote had been delayed more than a month while councilors reviewed and requested additional information.
"I'm relieved. Relieved that the decision has been made," said Sam Maida, the society's executive director. "Now we can start moving forward. ... We're going to give it our all."
The starting date for the new arrangement, which was to begin Jan. 1, will have to be renegotiated because of the delays but will probably be in about a month, said Kathy Bergen, the city's parks and recreation director.
Everybody, it seemed, wanted the long-neglected Lake Superior Zoo saved. They agreed the transfer of management to the nonprofit was the best way to do it, since city officials said the city could no longer afford to run the zoo.
But in the 6-3 vote, opposition came from councilors concerned about the fate of the current 10 full-time zookeepers who will lose their positions. Councilor Tony Cuneo said the current zookeepers, who won a city service award in 2007, should have been included in the decision-making process. Councilor Sharla Gardner said the contract with the zoological society violates the union contract that assures job security.
"Why is a contract less meaningful when it involves employees?" she asked.
AFSCME, the union representing the zookeepers, wanted the city to continue employing the zookeepers. The city, meanwhile, was intent on handing over the entire management of the zoo, including employment.
Lisa Potswald, the city's chief administrative officer, said the city had met with union representatives several times over the issue without better results. A meeting this morning also found neither side budging.
The zookeepers have been offered other positions with the city at the same pay. In addition, those with 21 or more years with the city will be allowed to retire rather than move into the new positions, she said.
Councilor Jay Fosle, noting the hundreds of e-mails they've received from people who want the zoo saved, said councilors represent the city's 80,000 residents, not just the union's 800 members.
"This is a decision we have to make" said Councilor Todd Fedora, noting the city's negative reserves and looming impact from a growing state deficit. "If anybody is going to make this work, it's the zoological society."
Under the three-year contract, the society will be responsible for the entire zoo operations. The city will pay the society $680,000, which includes $135,000 in state funding. The society has run the zoo's admissions, concessions, education and marketing programs since 1993 while the city has been responsible for the animals, grounds and buildings.
Councilors Fedora, Fosle, Gary Eckenberg, Greg Gilbert, Garry Krause and Jim Stauber voted for the contract that transfers operations to the society. Councilors Cuneo, Gardner and Jeff Anderson opposed it.