Council Transfers Zoo Management to Non-Profit

Last Wednesday, the Dallas City Council unanimously approved turning over management of the zoo to a non-profit organization, a spin-off of the philanthropic Dallas Zoological Society.  I supported this decision and think in the longrun it’ll improve our zoo.

However, I didn’t like the fact that this was rushed through, and several councilmembers also voiced their concern that this proposal was moving too fast.  The council had only been briefed about the matter the week before.  The mayor and others argued that this idea has been floating around for a decade, I suppose implying that we had gotten plenty of notice.  But an idea floating around in the ether is far different from a concrete proposal, and a week is too little time to really digest such a significant change to one of our largest assets.

The proposal suggested that the city retain ownership of the zoo property but that the zoological society manage day-to-day zoo operations and assume ownership of the animals.  The city would pay an annual flat fee (adjusted for inflation) to the zoological society for managing the zoo, and the society would pick up expenses beyond that.

As I reviewed the proposal, I kept thinking of possible problems (that’s what I do when I review city proposals — I look at them very critically and try to find holes or problems or unintended consequences that need to be fixed; blame it on the lawyer in me).  I was pleased that almost every concern was addressed. Continue reading

No One Should Protest in Front of Mayor’s Home

I saw on Dallas Morning News’ City Hall Blog that some folks who want to see Jenny the Elephant moved to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee plan to stage a protest in front of Mayor Leppert’s home in the coming days.

I may not see eye-to-eye with Mayor Leppert on every issue, but this kind of invasion of privacy crosses the line. It reveals a lack common courtesy and is an embarrassment to those of us who advocated for Jenny’s move to Tennessee. Continue reading

Jenny the Elephant

The Dallas Zoo plans to send its lone African elephant, Jenny, to a zoo in Mexico. I and the other council members have received thousands of emails asking us to get involved and overturn the Dallas Zoo’s decision.

In the past month I’ve visited both the Africam Zoo in Puebla, Mexico where the Zoo plans to send Jenny, as well as The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where many concerned residents would like to see Jenny live out her days.

For photos of my visits to both facilities, click here:

For video of my visits, click here:

Response to Steve Blow

Last Monday at 3:36 p.m., I received the following email from my assistant: “[Dallas Morning News columnist] Steve Blow called and said he wanted to let you know that he will be gigging you a little in his column for tomorrow about Jenny the elephant. He said after you read the article, if you want to yell at him, you can call him at 214-XXX-XXXX.”

Since Mr. Blow had not called me at any point prior to writing his column about Jenny the Elephant (in which — in his words — he was going to “gig me”), I called to talk with him before his article went to print. (I later learned it was already online at 3:28 p.m.)

At 3:44 p.m., shortly after receiving the message from my assistant, I spoke with Mr. Blow about why I considered the matter of Jenny the Elephant important enough to travel thousands of miles to Puebla, Mexico and Hohenwald, Tennessee: No. 1, Since Jenny is our charge, we have a responsibility to ensure we find the best location for her to spend the rest of her life. And No 2. I’ve been inundated with e-mails, both from my constituents and from around the country, on this issue; I owe it to my constituents to be as informed as possible.

He asked why I didn’t agree with staff’s recommendation to move the elephant to Mexico. I explained that if the council never disagreed with city staff’s recommendations, there would be no need for a city council. In this instance, as I explained to Mr. Blow, the Dallas Zoo belongs to the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), an organization that does not approve of relocating animals to facilities outside of its business association.

Because most sanctuaries are not members of the AZA (due to philosophical differences), the AZA opposed such a move and may threaten to sanction our zoo if we place Jenny with a sanctuary. I pointed out that, despite the AZA’s position, many other zoos across the country had relocated animals to sanctuaries over the objections of the AZA, and even referred him to a 2004 article in The Washington Post on a similar situation in Detroit.

I also mentioned that Jenny is an elephant with special needs. She has behavioral issues (part of the reason she is being relocated), some of which include being agitated by vehicles. The Mexican zoo is a drive-through zoo: Cars will drive past her all the time. The Tennessee sanctuary doesn’t allow the public to drive within the sanctuary and would further accommodate Jenny’s special needs.

When Mr. Blow pointed out that the Mexican zoo did not treat their animals cruelly, I noted that I never said that they did. But I did note that if he had a sick child, he would want that child to go to the very best hospital possible. That wouldn’t mean that all the other hospitals were torturing their patients, nor that the other hospitals weren’t the perfect fit for other children with other medical conditions. It would simply mean he had selected the hospital that would provide the very best care for the particular ailment facing his child.

I tell you all of this because none of it — not a single word of my conversation with Mr. Blow on this topic — will be reflected in his column tomorrow because “it’s already written.” When I asked Mr. Blow to please call me in the future prior to writing his column, he informed me that he knew exactly what I was going to say about Jenny the Elephant because he had spoken to a metro reporter (Joanna Cattanach) who told him what I had told her. That’s good reporting there.

First of all, his statement that “Ms. Hunt seems to have fallen under the sway of PETA” is absurd. I don’t think I’ve ever talked with anyone at PETA about this issue. PETA has nothing to do with my position on this issue or my interest in visiting both the Mexican zoo and the Tennessee sanctuary prior to taking a position on the issue.

Then he notes that he heard second-hand that I find zoos sad, and concludes I’d be a crummy date to the Dallas Zoo cuz I’m such a Debby Downer. (“Wouldn’t she be fun on a field trip to the zoo? Cotton candy? Snow cone? Prozac?” Ha!) The fact is, when I go to zoos where animals look cramped up in little cages and bored out of their minds, yeah, I find that kind of — what is the word? — sad. But to conclude I want to close the Dallas Zoo (“Given her feelings, perhaps Ms. Hunt should propose closing the Dallas Zoo at the next go-round of city budget hearings”) is ridiculous. That’s quite a leap, especially when Mr. Blow never asked me my opinion on the subject (or ever talked to me at all before writing his column). The fact is, I don’t think we should close our zoo, but I do think we should improve it, which is one reason I supported $3.5 million in the most recent bond package to make much needed improvements.

As to Mr. Blow’s statement that I’ve got more important issues to deal with, he failed to ask me what else I’ve been working on this month during council recess. If he’d asked, he would have learned that I have been going through the City Manager’s proposed budget line by line, that I’ve been gathering information on upcoming District 14 zoning cases, that I’ve been preparing for judicial candidate interviews, and that I’ve been working on a living wage for our sanitation workers.