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After controversial months, BREC head to retire and leave Baton Rouge

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BATON ROUGE – The head of the public parks system in East Baton Rouge made a surprise announcement Monday – she’s leaving her $157,000 a year job and Louisiana altogether.

Carolyn McKnight said she will retire from her position as superintendent of BREC.

McKnight’s announcement comes months after a controversial fight to move the zoo, which BREC runs. McKnight was pushing for the zoo to leave its long-time home north of Scotlandville for the fairgrounds on Airline Highway.

After a heated and public debate, park commissioners decided to not move the zoo.

McKnight took heat for her efforts and was the focus of scathing comments by other city officials – one of whom called for her resignation after a recording of a BREC meeting was released purportedly of McKnight making snarky comments about the zoo.

In the recording, a voice with a likeness of McKnight’s called the zoo’s current location “backwoods.” And said that the zoo will die if it did not move.

“We're in a situation where if we don't move, we're going to die,” the voice said to be McKnight’s is heard telling people in a clip released to WBRZ by an anonymous group that called themselves “Zoo Friends.” 

McKnight never disputed allegations it was her voice in the recording.

Among other comments heard in the recording was a clip of who is believed to be McKnight, confessing she’d like to give control of the zoo to the advocates.

“I'd love to be able to take [the zoo] to this group… whatever they call themselves… it wouldn't matter… but, [tell them] here ya go...”

BREC released a statement once WBRZ published the recordings.

“It is unfortunate that an employee would secretly record an internal meeting between staff and I that was specifically being held to provide them with information on where we are in the process in an effort to be transparent with employees as well as the public.

It is further unfortunate that this recording has been shared with a select group of opponents to BREC ‘s proposal to reimagine the Zoo and Greenwood park in an effort to further divide the community on this issue.”

In the statement, McKnight called the councilperson calling for her resignation – Chauna Banks – a bully.

“...I will not dignify her statement with any further comments,” the superintendent said.

BREC defended McKnight and she had received accolades from across the world.

"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 said in a previous WBRZ report.

McKnight will retire when her contract ends early next year.  She said she will  move to Texas to be closer to family. 

McKnight moved to Baton Rouge and BREC in January 2012.

BREC is expected to hire a search firm to help select a new superintendent.  McKnight said Monday, she'd expect seven to eight people would be interviewed for the job. 

BREC released a two-page news release about McKnight's retirement and her career accolades.  Click HERE to read the news release. 

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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