Risk Management

It’s All Happening at the Zoo

The Minnesota state auditor says that zoo employees who handle cash and checks should keep their paws off deposits for the bank.
Alan RappeportNovember 12, 2007

Minnesotans should consider themselves lucky that the state’s zoo is better at keeping track of its animals than its finances. The state auditor scolded the zoo in a report last week for a menagerie of foibles, ranging from how it accounts for revenue from its vendors to how it illegally reimburses employees buying alcohol.

The audit offered 19 recommendations on how the Minnesota Zoo could improve its financial accounting. The zoo’s costliest mistake may have been paying an extra $30,000 to a food vendor between July 2004 and April 2007, after it failed to verify that vendors were paying the proper commissions.

The zoo committed a serious internal controls error when it allowed the same employees to handle cash and checks while also preparing deposits for the bank, according to the review, which said that the practice violates state policy. The zoo also breached state law when it wrote its contract with a vendor that operates its IMAX theater to extend until 2032, the state auditor says. The law bars new contracts of longer than two years without written permission.

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Zoo officials also fumbled the handling of employee expenses, according to the report. The audit revealed that it reimbursed two workers for the cost of alcoholic beverages, violating state and zoo policies. It also once reimbursed an employee for a personal flight unrelated to state business and failed to report frequent flier miles that four employees earned while carrying out zoo business.

Banking proved no easier. The zoo did not properly deposit its receipts when they exceeded $250 and did not record deposits on the state’s accounting system. One example of sloppy accounting occurred after the death of a gazelle, the auditor said. The zoo deposited a $3,000 insurance check into a local bank account, and then wrote a check for the same amount to the owner of the gazelle without recording either transaction in the state’s accounting system.

In a five-page response to the audit, Lee Emke, the zoo’s director, promised that the zoo would work to correct many of its financial errors by next month or earlier. “It is the goal of the Minnesota Zoological Garden to provide accurate financial reporting, and to fully comply with all applicable laws, rules and policies,” Emke wrote.

The review, conducted by state auditor James Nobles, covered the period from July 2003 until December 2006. Last year, the state contributed $6,574,000 to the zoo’s revenue of nearly $17 million.

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