Commission defends BREC leadership in Wednesday press conference
BATON ROUGE - The BREC Commission held a press conference Wednesday to defend BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight and Zoo Director Phil Frost from recent criticism.
The conference in the Womack Park ballroom mostly consisted of BREC officials voicing support for the two in response to criticisms from "some individuals" in the community.
"All over the country we've received numerous support from not only East Baton Rouge, from as far as Africa talking about the qualifications of our Zoo Director, and even qualification of our Superintendent McKnight," said BREC Chairman Lloyd Benson.
In March, BREC leadership was met with stiff opposition when it pushed for a relocation of the Baton Rouge Zoo. After listening to hours of complaints from area residents, the commission voted unanimously to keep the zoo at its current location.
In the weeks following that decision, the zoo lost its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a distinction it had held for 40 years. The AZA specifically cited the zoo's poor condition and some of its practices as reasons for its decision.
Moving forward, commissioners say it's going to take money, not political bickering to improve the north Baton Rouge facility.
"We're looking to the philanthropic public, all those people who lined up the other night and said we're going to help you," said Commissioner Mike Walker, moments before giving McKnight a ten dollar bill for demonstration. "Well, put your money where your mouth is."
"How can I give to the zoo with the same leadership that destroyed the zoo," questions Metro councilwoman Chauna Banks. "We're paying them six-digit salaries. It's not a matter of whether we the community, or I personally, want to pay them $10. It's making them do their jobs that we are paying them for."
Commissioners have come up with a timeline for improvements.
"We believe that we know what's best for our parks, our systems, our zoo," said Benson.
BREC said it will take six to nine months to come up with a master plan. Then the community will be able to give input into the design of the zoo, and a fundraising campaign will begin.