Monday, August 6, 2018

Zoo Director Admits to Misuse of Bond Funds

Jackson Zoological Society Executive Director Beth Poff admitted she misused bond funds in a letter sent to Laura Jackson, Executive Director of the Department of Finance & Administration, on July 26.  The zoo currently owes $350,000 to DFA for spending the bond funds on operational expenses such as salaries.  The bonds were issued to fund renovations, repairs, and other capital improvements.  DFA will seek repayment of the funds. 

The Society has a lease to operate the Jackson Zoo that expires at the end of September. The Lumumba  Administration has said it is seeking another entity to operate the zoo. 

The agreement between the state and Society limits the use of the bonds to funding capital improvements.  Ms. Poff spent $370,000 of bond funds on paying salaries and other bills in 2018 (although $20,000 was repaid).  She spent $390,000 of the bond funds in 2017 on operations but returned it to the bond fund when the Society's auditor, Grantham Poole, discovered the violation in December.  

Ms. Poff states in the letter:

At this point we are out of options and out of potential avenues to fund operations. Given these circumstances, we made the decision to use funds from the Bond Proceeds to help with current operations, which include payroll, utilities, animal food, and insurance. All of which are necessities for day-to-day operations of the Jackson Zoo, which is referred to as the Project in the Memorandums of Understanding between the Jackson Zoo and the State Bond Commission.

We have every intention of restoring the funds once additional funds are received. We anticipate short term funding from the City of Jackson within the next month. We have also requested funding from the City of Jackson for the October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019 budget year. This request was based on funding that has been received from the City of Jackson in previous year. The amount received in 2017 was $980,000. If the City of Jackson provides funding at the same level, we will have more than enough to restore the bond proceeds before the end of the 2018 calendar year.

We understand that the use of these bond proceeds for operations is not in compliance with the Memorandums of Understanding we signed prior to receipt of these funds. We ask for understanding in these difficult times and an opportunity to restore the funds. We look forward to discussing this in more detail with Mr. McDevitt at a meeting Monday the 30th.

 Unfortunately for DFA, the Society is flat broke.  The Jackson City Council voted Thursday to provide $200,000 to pay employee salaries and get the zoo current on other bills through October 1.  The Society would have missed three payrolls Friday if the City Council had not acted.  Meanwhile, Justin Vicery provided more information in the Clarion-Ledger:

DFA Executive Director Laura D. Jackson said her office received a "sort of confession" letter from Poff last week. Jackson said Poff, who signed the MOU, took sole responsibility for the mismanagement of funds.  "She sent us a letter at the encouragement of the zoo board," Jackson said.

"She said she knew she wasn't supposed to use the bond fund but did it to meet payroll, sort of a confession letter."  Depending on what the city does, DFA could pull remaining bond funding from the zoo to the state, or step in and ensure the money is being spent correctly, Jackson said. 

The key points of the Wednesday meeting between the mayor and zoo board officials seemed to have bled over into a Thursday morning Jackson Zoological Society executive committee meeting, where the committee executed the vote of no confidence in Poff. If Poff doesn't resign, the zoo board will vote to end her contract, Blaine said. Poff could not be reached for comment.

 Meanwhile, the City Council has been mulling over releasing a request for proposals to bring in another zoo operator, but with the lease agreement between the city and JZS coming up in September, the council most recently considered the possibility of extending the lease.

Now, it appears the administration favors a more stringent stance. Blaine told the council Thursday the administration is looking at a transition plan for zoo management and raised the possibility of shuttering the zoo to the public for several months. He said the city has completed and will post an RFP.

The Jackson Zoological Society has operated the zoo, which consists of caring for the animals and overseeing the staff, since the mid-1980s when the nonprofit took over management of the park from the city's Department of Parks & Recreation. 

The temporary closing of the zoo would reduce the need "to immediately return" the zoo's debt coverage and allow the city additional time to bring in a new management group, Blaine said. 

"We'd allow for care of the animals. It would be closed to visitors and have an essential staff that would bring down operational costs," he said.

"This could be an opportunity for us to focus on the zoo of the future." 

Bringing in an outside operator may put a Band-Aid on the current zoo issues, but a comprehensive plan will be needed to keep the zoo at its west Jackson location, which has suffered from failing infrastructure and widespread blight.  

The park has registered declining attendance  — from over 185,000 guests in 2003 to barely 100,000 in 2017. Rest of article.
The city of Jackson will repay the $350,000 to DFA.  

 Kingfish note: The CL reported last week:

Thursday morning, the executive committee executed a vote of no confidence in Poff and asked for her resignation. Poff said she was kicked out of the board's meeting but wasn't sure what it was about. She couldn't be reached for additional comment.

Um, she was not "kicked out."  The committee voted to have a discussion and asked all employees to leave the room.  Far from being "kicked out."

Posted below: DFA letter and June income statement. Code words are "loan proceeds" and "loan."  


Anonymous said...

(1) Close it to the public to reduce operating costs;
(2) Take care of the animals in the interim;
(3) Find other zoos to transfer the animals to;
(4) Shut. It. Down.

Anonymous said...

If the City isn't going to get on board with moving it, there is no point in continuing the zoo where it is now. It needs to either be taken from the city and run by the state at Lefluer's bluff, or shut down entirely. Sad.

Anonymous said...

That’s ok.

Trump met with Putin to get stolen data from HRC.

This is now acceptable behavior.

Move along.

Anonymous said...

I call dibs on the train!

Anonymous said...

With the overwhelming problems facing Jackson it is absolutely incredible this thing is not closed immediately. People are not going to put their families in harms way to visit a very substandard zoo in a ghetto. This is insane.

Anonymous said...

Remove the animals to other zoos and shut it down. It's the humane thing to do.

Anonymous said...

This is going to be very interesting to watch play out. Based on the information that Kingfish has posted over the last few weeks about the zoo (and I have not researched beyond that), it appears that there is almost no option but to close the zoo - at least for some period of time. I can't imagine any other organization willing to bid on an operating contract considering the current condition of the zoo (physically and fiscally) and the poor financial outlook going forward. And moving the zoo, if it happens at all (unlikely), wouldn't be feasible for years.

So, the City Council has to make a choice: do the fiscally responsible thing and shut it down (or to 8.12 AM's point, at lease skinny it down to keeping the animals alive and look for places to move them) or bow to community pressure and their own idealogical fantasies and keep it open at the expense of other, critical city services. Closing the zoo is a huge symbolic blow to inner-city Jackson and the city leadership that represents that demographic.

Anonymous said...

Oh Delbert, Ms Poff has just admitted she did what David Watkins kept saying he did not do, so I believe you have a new case to open, since your previous employees proved Mr. Watkins' misuse of bond proceeds, you need to go after Ms. Poff.

Anonymous said...

8:12 is right. Sadly, Jackson cannot support a zoo.

Anonymous said...

This poor women could go to jail for this and the members of the governing Board could have a personal liability for these funds. This should never have been allowed to get this far. First shut this mess down and stop bleeding.Relocate animals and leave it shut down. I feel she meant well but you just can not use someone's else money as you please.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps JPS could have had more educational field trips to the zoo if they were not busy giving away their budget through their school administration jobs program. Kids get to see an administrator's luxury car in the parking lot of Seafood Revolution instead of lions, tigers, and giraffes.

Anonymous said...

Where to lay blame? Every child in the metro area has lost the opportunity that we all grew up taking for granted. Certainly, some of them will go to Birmingham, Memphis or New Orleans, but not most. This is a failure that goes back decades and is just another symptom of the downturn (abandonment) of Jackson. But, hey, we have Renaissance and the Outlets of Mississippi, so it's all good.

Anonymous said...

David Watkins 1] took the money for his own use, 2] denies the misuse to this very day, and 3] claims he was politically persecuted for being a Democrat.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, JPS is asking Jackson voters for authority to issue bonds to pay (mostly) for deferred maintenance, not new build.

Corinthian Sanders said...

Beth Poff has been a tremendous leader of the Jackson Zoological Society Inc. even when the Society itself was dysfunctional beyond approach. This woman came to New Jack City to help us run and build a great zoo, but only if she knew the politics at City Hall, the egotistic Board of Directors, and the recklessness of the "street committee" hibernating in the slums surrounding the Zoo. If Director Beth was receiving the monies of what the City of Jackson agreed upon for the past 13+ plus years she was there-it wouldn't be a need to use Bond funds to pay the men and women who worked hard in caring for those animals, which is the central purpose of zoos. This is a political stunt that shall go down in history as one of reasons Jackson should be overtook by the State.

And stop lying about another organization willing to operate the Jackson Zoo in its current location and given the current and past relationship between the City of Jackson...Tell somebody else that lie. This is nothing but a "coop" that was in the making since the mayoral campaign, of which I warned the people about.

Anonymous said...

Ask yourselves this. Did she have a choice? What would have happened if she elected to shut the gates? She would have been persecuted. Didn’t she consistently ask where the funds were that the City owed the Zoo? Was it not given to the Zoo? From what I read it was not. She was in a lose lose situation and she was looking out for the animals and employees. If it were me I would have gotten myself an attorney and asked for counsel to advise me. It’s is a crappy situation all the way around. We don’t need the Zoo. We have way too many issues in this town to sustain one. Now, she has to pay dearly for trying to make payroll. If any of you who are in the private sector have had to deal with making a weekly payroll, it is sometimes difficult. So, you say it was not the correct thing or legal thing to do. What would you have done?

Anonymous said...

Put Tater on the Zoo Board. He could solve all their problems.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry, but spending the bond funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law is a no no,even if her heart was in the right place.

Going public with the insolvency of the zoo instead of covering the operating expenses with bond funds would have been the right move.

She would still be the bad guy, but she would have been in compliance with the law and the City would have been forced to cover the shortfall at that time. They would never let the employees go without their paychecks.

Now, all of the zoo's problems will be laid at her feet. Baby chok and all other officials will blame the "bad white lady" for the zoo's closing when in reality her efforts were simply to keep it open.

Anonymous said...

I have a second for put Tater in charge!

Just need the taxpayers to pay for building a frontage road or two and the money can be rolling in and the zoo will be purt near saved!

Anonymous said...

Where the RFP?

Kingfish said...

You are correct, 11:41. Just remember the hell that my good friend Melvin Priester, Jr. caught when he suggested closing a money-losing little-used Grove Park golf course.

Anonymous said...

"She sent us a letter at the encouragement of the zoo board," Jackson said

anyone get the tag number of that bus?

Anonymous said...

Poor Jackson, poor leadership, poor future.

Anonymous said...

Why are the white leaders not condemning the actions of all these white thieves? What a terrible lack of leadership . No wonder the whites commit so much fraud with this horrible example being set for them.

Anonymous said...

Poff knew what she was doing and she knew it was wrong. You do not use bond proceeds for uses other than specified. That is illegal.

The Board asked her to send a letter, because it should have been done a LONG time ago.

She made her own bed.

Anonymous said...

12:17, what exactly did this woman steal? I’ll wait for your no doubt erudite response.

Anonymous said...

Close the that zoo for now. Those animals will be taken care of in the interim at other facilities. Now, the question is what do you do with the rest of the "animals" in Jackson. I suggest euthanization. Would surely cut down on the crime and killing.

Anonymous said...

KF, what happened to the alternative entrance idea?

Kingfish said...

Actually, there is a better route no one uses. Get off at the Industrial exit, go left. Road ends at Woodrow Wilson. Nothing but green. Take left, then right at next light, Parkside. Zoo is on the left. Come out on capital street right next to the entrance.

No one was interested. Found out last week that the Yarber administration pushed for it in terms of getting help but the Ward 6 Councilman opposed it and killed it.

When Kaze and those activists came out and said they didn't like my idea because they didn't want to make it comfortable for white people to come to the zoo, I said F___ Them and let the idea die since no one supported it.

Anonymous said...

So what has Delbert done to initiate a case on this?

Oh, I forgot. Delbert is riding his motorcycle and then taking his 5 mile run.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see Hitler’s youth all grown up at 1:52

Anonymous said...

Nice to see Hitler’s youth all grown up at 1:52

Anonymous said...

Why are the white leaders not condemning the actions of all these white thieves?

Because they've learned from all the black leaders who look the other way that condemnation of thieves is not necessary.


Anonymous said...

Well now might be good time to bring it back up. While you’re at it. The place could use a good power washing. Particularly the table are around the consessions. Oh, and the bridge around the primate exhibits really needs some tlc. Lastly, the reptile/ground hog/ otter exhibit are nearly always empty. Lastly, can we get a competent mechanic to look at the train. It’s one of the things my kids love about the zoo. Can you tell us if the board is being kept in the loop by the city? Are thee any meetings being held ?

Anonymous said...

10:51 - the funds you refer to that were not "given to her" was $50k. What she stole from the bond funds was $390k. Your argument that she wouldn't have had to raid the bond funds if the city had given the zoo the funds fails on its face. This past year, the city gave the zoo $180k more than it has the past several years. Try as you might to defend this individual (and the zoo's executive board) for stealing from the state treasury, your attempts fail.

And now, even after stealing this money, getting caught and repaying it, and then stealing it again - the zoo is flat broke. It is taking an emergency payment of $200k to keep the doors open and feed the animals.


(1) Is Poff still getting paid now that the zoo has these additional bailout dollars? After some board members attempted to keep her on in another position and that was rejected, was she terminated or is she still drawing a paycheck from the zoo?

(2) How have the emergency funds been used, considering that they were provided by the city to insure that the payroll was met, that the employee health insurance premiums were caught up so that they wouldn't lose coverage, and that the animal's welfare was maintained? Were any of the funds used to benefit Poff or any of the board members?

(3) Why should the City of Jackson have to repay DFA for this incompetent's manager's actions? Shouldn't she first be held accountable for her actions? She claims that there was no other choice - did she discuss this with the executive committee or the board and get a consensus from them to break the law or did she do it on her own? Surely the Society had a bond on this employee that should be called on to repay the embezzled funds before the city has to ante up for her theft.

Anonymous said...

"She made her own bed."

Did she? I probably missed that, for I am old and nearly blind. Reading is not as easy for me as it once was.

No one else was aware and helping "fluff the sheets?"

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, those bonds are investments in facility improvements. Why has the zoo been sitting on over $1m in funding for so long?

Maybe I don't understand how bonds are supposed to work, but shouldn't they have been cashed in and used for actual improvements? If the infrastructure is improved, overall costs of maintaining the grounds and buildings would have been reduced. (You can't look me in the eyes and tell me that water bill isn't from leaking pipes, for example.)

Anonymous said...

Yep, there was one Board member who helped her hide the truth from the other Board members.

It was her idea.

Anonymous said...

People loaned money to the Zoo by buying bonds. A program is required to be used to repay these people. She took money that belonged to the bond holders and gave it to someone else. It may not be a big thing to some but to the bond holder it is stealing. Boards of Directors are also required to have some safeguards in place to prevent this so they will also get a hit.

Anonymous said...

For all those who think the current zoo director did nothing wrong, she should have been honest and come forward about the revenue issues earlier instead of breaking the law.

She's nothing more than a criminal for doing that. Lock her up!

The bottom line is that it's difficult to operate anything in a crime-ridden neighborhood such as the one around the zoo. Whether it be a church (lots of old church buildings around there are abandoned), a restaurant, gas station--whatever.

What does work in neighborhoods like the one around our zoo (Philadelphia PA zoo for example) is a nice convenient safe entrance and exit route. (Like KF's solution..)

Until that's addressed-its just flushing money down the toilet. JPS doesn't have a problem with that..why should the zoo?

Anonymous said...

Ok...this is probably a dumb question but...why were people loaning money to the zoo (via the bond) for "infrastructure improvements" when the zoo didn't even have enough money to pay its staff or feed the animals? And what zoo lover would be upset because they money they loaned for "infrastructure" was used to feed the animals instead? I mean...isn't the whole purpose of a zoo to provide a safe, healthy environment for the animals? What good is a shiny, new enclosure if the animal in it is starving???? Priorities, anyone???

Anonymous said...

The ship has run aground. Why the hell are you people still grumbling about the rotten food in the galley, an empty wheelhouse and what could later become a leak in the aft lower deck? Put the son of a bitch in dry-dock and realize there is no salvage value, tow it out to sea and have a sinking-ceremony. The only thing optional for the city administration is the music. And there's somebody on the dock who would provide THAT free.

Thank you. Takes a bow.

Anonymous said...

Evidently many of the JJ readers need a lesson in bonds.

The $1 million that is primary to this discussion was "Bonding Authority" appropriated by the State Legislature for the benefit of the Jackson zoo - all as part of a major $200 +/- "bond bill" approved by the state legislature. Such a bond bill is normal for most years and includes projects for the state colleges and universities, the community colleges, state buildings, various 'local projects', etc.

The State of Mississippi issues bonds based on this legislative authority. A several hundred million dollar issue, guaranteed by the State of Mississippi (generally includes some general obligation bonds and some revenue bonds). The benefit of these bonds to an investor is that the GO bonds are guaranteed by the general credit of the State, and the interest is tax exempt.

Since the legislature authorized that $1 million be included for the use of the Jackson zoo for capital improvements (thanks to their paid lobby consultant, Beth Clay) once the bonds are issued by the state the funds are available to the zoo on a drawdown basis upon certification of the expenditure for authorized purposes.

They are not bonds issued by the Jackson zoo. Nobody is loaning money to the Jackson zoo. The lenders are buying State of Mississippi bonds and are being repaid by the State.

What Ms. Poff (and her accomplices on the board that participated with her) did was lie to the state in their request for reimbursement from the fund, claiming that the money being drawn down was for capital improvements. Once exposed, the State demanded repayment of the illegally drawn funds.

Enough for today's class. Tomorrow will come with homework assignments.

Anonymous said...

Just another nail in the coffin for Jackson. This is part of the new world order that our administration has put in motion. The zoo will be closed and reopen in a few years in Rankin. The brain trust of Chuck/Stokes will accelerate the destruction of our capital city. Wish it could be saved, but that time has passed. Soon our car tags will equal our car payments. As each entity leaves, our taxes increase.

Anonymous said...

7:44, so the City repays the State and the bond holder is protected. No one is hurt, no laws are broken and this is just another City staffer misspending money that goes on every day. Her heart was in the right place; it was for the animals.

Anonymous said...

Not to be slamming Kingfish's managerial prowess, but why hasn't the zoo board initiated a bankruptcy declaration/receivership by the City of Jackson given that they are absolutely broke and have no means of digging themselves out? The snails pace of a resolution is absolutely beyond belief.

Anonymous said...

Dismantle the board while you're at it! They apparently provided ZERO oversight.

Anonymous said...

I went to the McClain safari on Monday. It was sold out, 60 people. Kids want to be able to touch and experience animals, not just look at them. McClain brings the experience alive and will take a lot of the zoo’s visitors over the next year.

Anonymous said...

Alas 3:32 , they do have a way to dig themselves out... With your tax dollars. Silly rabbit. Speaking of...does the zoo have rabbits?

Anonymous said...

Back to the subject at hand. We all know there's no way she'll be called to account since she is black. Hot potato. Same as Bryant turning tail and running from the JPS situation. Would have killed his chances for a federal appointment.

Kingfish said...

Black? Racist much, are you?

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