Listen: Part of a recording made during a BREC staff meeting
BATON ROUGE – Hours ahead of a vote by public park commissioners on moving the zoo, Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks called for the resignation of the system's leader Carolyn McKnight.
“I think it's time for her to resign,” Banks told WBRZ Thursday morning. “She's not operating in reality.”
Banks' call comes amid morning flurry of emails sent by an anonymous group of people calling themselves “Zoo Friends.” The emails contained nearly a dozen clips of recordings from a BREC staff meeting this week where a voice purported to be McKnight negatively discusses topics concerning the zoo move.
Among the recordings is one where McKnight insinuates she'd be interested in handing over the operations of the zoo.
“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,” a voice said to be McKnight's is heard, adding that if it were an option, the superintendent would give a special group the money required to run the zoo.
“We're in a situation where if we don't move, we're going to die,” McKnight is heard telling people in another clip.
The voice said to be McKnight's tells listeners, a move is needed because the proposed site off Airline Highway is a major thoroughfare, not a “back [woods or rural – the audio is hard to hear specifically], country road.”
A BREC employee secretly recorded the meeting and shared the files with the group.
“We would rather remain anonymous to ensure fair reporting,” a person with control of the email account responded when asked for more information on “Zoo Friends” and if someone would be available for an interview.
The videos are split into short clips but are obviously edited – each contains a different picture of McKnight with the recording in the background. A raw, unprocessed version of the files was not made available.
BREC leaders vote on the topic of moving the zoo Thursday evening. Among those publicly against the move is Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who is also discussed in the recording.
McKnight said of Banks in the recording, “She is… raging, she is like a bully.”
Banks said she is not shocked after listening to the recordings.
“None of it surprises me, this is what I've heard over the last two years,” Banks said.
Banks is not alone, however. Mayors of each city in East Baton Rouge have opposed the move along with residents of Santa Maria, an upscale neighborhood that will overlook the possible future zoo.
A new zoo would be funded with the help of a new property tax, one that McKnight said in the recording will be hard to persuade voters to approve.
“[A tax to build a new zoo] probably wouldn't pass.”
BREC could ask voters to fund a tax plan officials have valued at $150 million for a new zoo and costs associated with reverting the area where the zoo is currently to a regular park.
After WBRZ published its story, BREC released a statement on behalf of McKnight:
“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.
Anyone who has spent time around Councilwoman Banks is familiar with her bullying tactics and the manner in which she seeks to divide others as it relates to issues that impact the entirety of East Baton Rouge Parish; therefore I will not dignify her statement with any further comments.”
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