Saturday, April 14, 2018

Priester speaks on Zoo

Jackson Ward 2 City Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. penned his thoughts about the Jackson Zoo's future on Facebook this week: 

I know I haven't been using Facebook much lately, the whole Zuckerberg is evil thing, but the zoo situation is bringing me out of retirement because I want to share some documents with you.  If you have questions about the zoo situation, I highly encourage you to go to the website of the Jackson Zoo, and go to this page

On that page check out the Annual Reports for info about the numbers, expenses, revenue, # of visitors, events done to improve traffic, etc. The zoo board has been taking a lot of flack (some deserved) but if you read the reports it's hard not to conclude that they are doing a good job operating the zoo despite being dealt a difficult hand.
In addition to the annual reports, check out their Ten Year Facilities Plan from 2015:…/uplo…/2013/10/Ten-Year-Plan-2015.pdf

Upgrading the existing zoo would be very, very expensive. If we did all four phases in the proposal, it would cost approx. $100 Million (the first phase would be 31million) Yesterday, I asked the zoo's director to send me the building inventory they did as part of the 2015 master plan. I wanted to share that with you too because it helps you understand why staying at the existing facility would cost so much.

Zoo Building Inventory:

 A lot of buildings are in very poor shape and need MAJOR repairs (ironically, many of the buildings from the 1940's are holding in better than some of the newer construction, which is kind of a metaphor for Jackson as a whole).

One question people have been asking is about the financial support given by the City to the Zoo. For the last few years we have given the Zoo approx. $900,000/year more or less. That's down from a brief high of $1.2 million.

We give the zoo a life support budget. We do that because we don't have the money to do more.

The zoo is paid for out of the general fund (i.e. the same pool of money that we have to allocate on police, the fire department, pretty much everything but the water-sewer system). General Fund = Property Taxes + Sales Tax (everything else is basically rounding error). Police and Fire Departments take up the biggest percentage of the general fund (33million + 16million approx. if memory serves, out of about $115million total).

A discussion on the budget needs of the police and fire departments is a post for a different time but the options for giving more to the zoo are not pretty, let's just leave it like that for the moment.

Also, not to trivialize the situation, yes we can multitask, but potholes. I get calls constantly from people whose lives are screwed up because they hit a pothole and can't afford a repair to get to work. It's gonna be real hard to vote for more money for the zoo given these streets. It's just the reality of the situation.

Last point, one idea being thrown around is to replace the group that currently operates the zoo and has proposed moving (the Jackson Zoological Society, Inc.). The City leased the Zoo to them to operate in what is basically a public private partnership. The lease to operate the Zoo expires in September of this year.

To replace them, we would need to do a request for proposals for a new operator NOW, vet any applicants, and vote for a new operator.

I don't have a problem with tossing out the net and seeing if we can get a new operator. I HIGHLY doubt that we can find a new, competent operator that will run the zoo in its current location for the same amount of money we pay the current operator.

Even if the City were to come in to a windfall of several million dollars per year in additional revenue, we have too many other needs in police, fire, streets, etc. for us to be able to give significantly more to the zoo. Those are the facts. But maybe I'm wrong, maybe there is a competent, experienced, zoo operator who would be willing to take the lease from the City of Jackson.

The RFP for a new zoo operator is likely to happen but I doubt we will get a good result.

If you were a zoo operator and read that building inventory I linked to, how much would you want the City to pay to come in and promise to stay? Exactly.

The status quo is not sustainable. That's pretty much all I can say at this point. I'll save other ideas for a separate post.

p.s., after much googling I couldn't even find any examples of companies that might come in and run the zoo, we'd probably have to build one from scratch . . . and no, until we can consistently send you water bills and fix potholes, there is no way in we the City of Jackson should take over for the day-to-day operation of the zoo, you think animals are dying now?!?)

Kingfish note: This is a piece of sorely-needed sober analysis.

Speaking of disrepair, here is one example of what Mr. Priester means.   Several of the buildings suffered hail damage back in 2013.  The insurance company paid a quarter-million dollars for the damage.  The check went to the city where it just went wherever.  The city didn't make the actual repairs until last summer - more than four years after the hail storm.  Little-known fact: The public works department is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the actual buildings under the terms of the lease agreement. 


Anonymous said...

The water in the city is unsafe to drink due to constant pressure losses brought on by years of neglect to the distribution system.
Many of the streets are in such a state of disrepair that they are for the most part impassable, again due to years of neglect.
The crime rate is higher than it is in many third world countries and it is unsafe to enter many areas.
Rather than try to fix these problems the city administration is focused on the zoo! No wonder the City of Jackson, (which was a beautiful city in years gone by) continues to decline.

Anonymous said...

Why the city council keeps talking about fixing potholes blows my mind. 99.9% of the potholes are from leaking water/sewer lines. Yes you can fill the potholes in but without fixing the underlying issue it’s a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kingfish but I already read Priester’s Facebook post as he was typing it in real time. Thanks, Cambridge Analytica!!!

Anonymous said...

As soon as he clicked Submit, 1 billion fake accounts sprang into action

Anonymous said...

Another bookish rant from Councilnerd Priester. I haven’t been able to make it through one of his posts yet.

Burke said...

With all due respect, 1:46, the point of Mr. Priester's message is that the city can NOT fix the zoo in the near future. There are no remedies available as long as more urgent needs must be met. Short of intervention by an angelic benefactor, the zoo will have to struggle along with those other aspects of city life that cannot be quickly repaired.

I think it is remarkable that we finally have an administration that is actually focused on doing what can be done with what we have, and at the same time is competent and (fingers crossed) non-corrupt. Many of those who have moved out of the city may have convinced themselves that the city is beyond saving, but they are wrong. I don't begrudge their choice, but I do hope that they understand that you cannot escape the burden of Southern history (C. Vann Woodward). The burden is much less heavy now, but it is still there. Be kind, my friends, always be kind.

Anonymous said...

Close the zoo, construct a new jail with exhibits (habitual offenders etc.)!

Anonymous said...

Then you have a serious problem, 2:40. Perhaps ADHD?

What he's saying is the same as a thousand have said on this blog, which is, why diddle-daddle over zoo discussions when the entire city is crumbling? Give the animals away and move on to other, more important realities.

On the other hand, he may be eluding to the suggestion of doing nothing but renewing the 'contract to operate' which he says nobody else will bid on to begin with.

They should have been about dismantling this zoo a year and a half ago, way in advance of the contract expiring in five months. Too late now.

Anonymous said...

It’s time to close the zoo, focus on priorities and assemble a leadership that can bring Jackson into a new and better era. I won’t say much more than that because I get censored by the moderator. It’s time for the administration to start using there heads.

Anonymous said...

Just more gobblety gook from CouncilErkel Priester. Lots of words. Not many actual stances or positions taken

Anonymous said...

Funny, if you go to the City Council page, there appears to be 7 Councilmembers total. From the level of engagement put forward on many issues, you would think Priester is the only one.

Anonymous said...

I think it is remarkable that we finally have an administration that is actually focused on doing what can be done with what we have, ...

Antar wants to refi bonds to reduce near-term debt service so that he can do more beyond-our-means spending by taking on additional new debt. You don't have that what you think you have and are a fool to think that you do.

Anonymous said...


Repost the Vintage video of the lake at the zoo full of swimmers.

Money talks said...

Everyone knows the most disposable income comes from Northeast Jackson. We are not going to contribute to a zoo where our children are not safe. I think it will be a huge surprise how much money will be donated from private individuals when the zoo is located in Northeast Jackson.

Anonymous said...

Why are so many posters on this site bona fide (anonymous) assholes?

Kingfish said...

434: you noticed.

John said...

Tear down the zoo. It's not a luxury we can afford! Lease the land to developers at attractive rates for apartments, single-family homes and businesses. The city wins because it would generate revenue. The neighborhood wins because there would be reason for people to go there and more jobs.

Anonymous said...

230, not related to the zoo but your claim about the potholes just frankly is bullcrap. A prime example to prove my claim is Museum Drive -,the road that runs in front of the Natural Science Museum and Lefluers. It is eaten up with potholes. And there are no water lines under neath the road bed to cause them as you so ignorantly claim.

There are undoubtedly some created by leaking water mains, but if that is the case the line will be leaking on the street. For most all potholes in the city, that is not the case. Don't know which public works truck you fell off of when coming into the city, but you need to check your hypothesis next time before you opine on matters of which you know little.

Anonymous said...

I can't decide which is more troubling...

the long maintenance neglect of our zoo,
substandard contract proposals for public buildings,

or that people who think they are wise enough to comment on public issues can't read a this post

from Councilman Priester that a fifth grader should be able to understand.

I broke up one sentence in hopes of helping 2:49 and 4:23.

And, I wish ALL our elected officials would take the time to inform us on issues. Alas, most of them don't bother to inform themselves. Thank you Councilman Priester.

I would hope that The Junior Leagues and Junior Auxiliaries , along with our wealthiest citizens would make the zoo their project. This is a STATE asset, and all Mississippians should want to see it prosper. In many states, the STATE helps support the zoo. With such support, we could construct a state of the art zoo or completely rehabilitate and secure the existing zoo and tax dollars would then be slated only for maintenance. Of course, that would require our elected officials not to see maintenance as a opportunity to help their Uncle Bubba who isn't doing so well with his shoddy company.

The construction regulations and the enforcement of the existing regulations in this State are a joke.

Anonymous said...

9:11, the 'wonderful little zoo' discussed on another post that exists in Birmingham AL is a zoo of 170 acres - seven times the size of the proposed "new zoo" that the board wants to move.

That zoo was privatized a couple of decades ago. It is not a state supported zoo, nor is it a city or county zoo. Your premise that most zoos are supported by the state is hard to support - unless of course you consider the Jackson zoo that has received many millions of dollars from the state over the past couple of decades.

But if it is as you claim a 'state asset' then why does it get to operate as a private, non-transparent company. Even though the city puts in its million a year, along with maintenance costs, and the state puts in a million or so most every year, anyone not on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors can attend the meetings where decisions are made on the financial operations of the zoo. Before I would put more money into this operation, city, county, state or your Junior League groups, I would demand some transparency in the Zoological Assocations operations and decisions

Anonymous said...

"Just more gobblety gook from CouncilErkel Priester. Lots of words. Not many actual stances or positions taken"
April 14, 2018 at 4:23 PM

YOU, 4:23, are a magnificent example of Jackson's (and Mississippi's) CORE PROBLEM. YOU (and people like you) are the reason why the state's Best & Brightest leave Mississippi as soon as they're old enough to rent a U-Haul (assuming they didn't leave for good, as college freshmen, heeding the words of their elders, "Get out NOW, Honey, while you still can!").

The fact that Councilman Priester is writing above YOUR grade level, does not mean that his words are "gobblety gook" (actually, it's 'gobbledygook'). You use the term 'Erkel'(actually, it's 'Urkel') as a slur. The Urban Dictionary's entry for 'Urkel' includes 'SMART' as one of the characteristics of an 'Urkel'.

You seem to think that being smart is something shameful. You are not alone. That seems to be the consensus, in Mississippi. And that is why smart people (the ones who're tired of hiding their intelligence, by mimicking the Lowest Common Denominator among Mississippi's barely-human 'humanity') have been leaving, in droves, for generations. People who did not enjoy being mocked, lectured, discounted, and resented, for being smart and ambitious, LEFT MISSISSIPPI.

The 'missing people', who're gone from Jackson (and from nearly every town in that wretched state) are not (as many seem to think) in Madison, or in Brandon. They're gone from Mississippi. Many moved as far from Mississippi as they could get. Some only made it as far as Dallas or Atlanta. But we're GONE. Whole districts of Jackson are nearly empty. There are not enough prosperous, productive people, to shop the new developments' 'chic boutiques', or to people the 'hip eateries and coffee shops', or to buy the organic produce at Rainbow, or to vote for the better candidates, or to support the Zoo, because WE'RE GONE.

And we left, mostly, because of PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

Anonymous said...

I've been around JLJ enough to tell you folks that they have tried to support the zoo in the past through various projects.

Move it or close it. The current location is garbage and won't last long term.

A JLJ Sustainer

Burke said...

What 1:29 said.

Class of 1994 said...

1:29, there are plenty of smart, and educated, individuals who have not left Jackson, or Mississippi. There are plenty that went away to school and came back here to live, despite your condemnation. And there are others that are coming still today whose education and intelligence level would surpass your closed mind.

I do agree with you about Priester - who is one of those that came back. Some might question his reasons for doing so, but that's not at issue. After receiving a good education here in Jackson and going away for higher education, he is back. And I can point to plenty of his high school classmates who have done the same.

Anonymous said...

1:29 is exactly right. We continue to elect "conservative flyweights" like Reeves who run on platforms of being the "biggest redneck" around. Then our black brothers and sisters don't vote (and with a 38% population) and the continuum goes on. There is a reason we are losing population and the answer is obvious....see the definition of insanity.

Anonymous said...

12:46 am I wasn't referring to Alabama's zoo. There are other zoos in the country.
And, I did mention the private effort alternative.

You attack without reason.

Anonymous said...

JJL Sustainer JJL has invested in the Children's museum to your credit.
" Move it or close it" isn't indicative of the leadership for which JJL has been noted. Creative ideas and approaches and doing the needed research in advance of your endeavors is your strength. If memory serves, the last project was rather a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

There was a time after Rome was sacked by the Huns and Vandals that simple folk would look at things like the Coliseum and think, "Wow. Those must have been good times."

That's how I feel now when I look at Memorial Stadium. And the Zoo.

Anonymous said...

You know what, love or hate what he has to say, Priester is far and away the most thoughtful council member, and at times seems like the only one trying or with a brain. One has to wonder if he were elected instead of Pastuh Tony. Perhaps could have withstood a challenge from Chok if people actually saw progress.

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