[NEWS] Denver Auditor Claims Zoo Dodges Audit on Plan to Incinerate Manure for Energy

[See past reporting by The Biomass Monitor on the Denver Zoo’s (now withdrawn) plan to incinerate elephant manure and trash for energy.] 

– by Kieran Nicholson, April 6, 2016, Denver Post

The Denver Zoo's Waste-to-Energy program.

Photo: Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post

Denver Zoo officials are stonewalling the city auditor’s office, obstructing attempts by the office to perform its duties, the auditor said Monday in a letter to the mayor.

“The Zoo has repeatedly failed in its contractual duty to cooperate with the Audit,” Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien said in a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock.

O’Brien’s office has been trying to audit the zoo since November, according to O’Brien, and zoo officials have been uncooperative.

The zoo, which sits on 93 acres in City Park, operates under a “cooperative agreement” with the city of Denver.

O’Brien said the audit, in part, is being driven by public concern “related to the proposed waste-to-energy or gasification plant.”

The auditor’s office wants to investigate money that was spent on the plant and current plans for the proposed facility.

Denver Zoo announced in September it would discontinue, a least temporarily, plans for a $3.7 million biomass gasification system that turns animal waste into energy. Zoo officials say if the plant is built, it will not be on zoo grounds.

“The Zoo’s obstruction has increased the perceived risk to the City involved in this contract,” O’Brien said. “We have to wonder, what is it that the Zoo doesn’t want us to discover?”

Zoo officials released a statement Monday afternoon saying, “The Foundation remains committed to its long-standing and successful relationship with the City and County of Denver for operation of the Denver Zoo, and has always operated with transparency with our stakeholders.”

Sean Anderson-Vie, zoo spokesman, said the zoo may release more information once management evaluates O’Brien’s letter.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s office issued a statement that the mayor expects “all city agencies and contractual partners to comply with audit requests of the duly elected Denver Auditor. My team is already looking into this issue to understand the obligations within the cooperative agreement in hopes that we can help enable a meaningful audit of the Denver Zoo.”

O’Brien said the zoo is trying to dictate the scope, terms and method of the audit. “The Zoo’s conduct prevents the Auditor’s Office from conducting an audit in compliance with City law and the professional standards adopted by the City Charter.”

O’Brien claims zoo officials are obstructing an audit in a variety of ways including:

• Disputing the zoo is subject to Denver Revised Municipal Code.

• Demanding the Auditor’s Office limit the scope of the Audit before assessing the potential risks associated with the Audit subject.

• Requiring Zoo employees be interviewed in the presence of Zoo management and Zoo legal counsel.

• Repeatedly postponing entry and grounding interviews.

• Refusing to provide required Department of Parks and Recreation documents.

• Requesting a confidentiality agreement, in addition to the auditor’s already existing confidentiality requirements.

“For the past five months, the Auditor’s Office has unsuccessfully worked through City channels to elicit substantive cooperation for the Zoo,” O’Brien said in the letter.

O’Brien notes that the zoo gets millions of dollars from the City General Fund, Scientific and Cultural Facilities sales tax money and city-provided bond funding for major projects including the parking garage and key exhibits.

“Despite the huge influx of public funds, the Zoo has claimed that its financial records are confidential,” O’Brien said. “The Zoo’s approach is not consistent with audit industry standards.”

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