x

WQAD.com

County Urged to Allow Private Operation of Niabi Zoo

At a facility best known for giraffes, wolf cubs, and wild cats it comes down to the need for the right human beings. “We’ve got to look toward the ...

At a facility best known for giraffes, wolf cubs, and wild cats it comes down to the need for the right human beings.

"We've got to look toward the future," said zoo consultant Rick Biddle told the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission on Wednesday, October 7.

Biddle is confirming what the Commission has already heard: the long-term health of Niabi Zoo would be better served if a private operator took over the day to day activities.

In other words, get the County Board out of the Zoo business.

"I think your zoo is well managed," said Biddle.  "It's not about the management of the operation."

But it is about the people who are doing the managing.

"We need the right people, we need the right agreement, we need the right financial arrangement to make this work," he said.

"Those pieces are not in place today."

Biddle recommends a new public-private partnership takes control of the day to day care of the animals, the fundraising for the zoo, and all the basic operations.   The County Forest Preserve would continue owning the property and everything in it.

He says Niabi needs to grow its fundraising base and donors want to have a direct connection with those who it.  It's transparency that may not be possible with the current operations at the Zoo.

Zoo director Marc Heinzman announced he's leaving for a new job in Washington State.

The County is being told the new zoo director will need to be an administrator with experience that may command twice the salary of outgoing director Heinzman.

"So we need someone that's skilled in the zoological community that has experience and the fortitiude to run a zoo correctly," says County Supervisor Drue Mielke.

"I know they are out there."

But besides protecting the animals, the union representing workers says it wants to protect the people.

"Just having a knee jerk reaction can end up having a long term negative impact," sais AFSCME Union staff representative Miguel Morga.

"I think its important to focus on the right solution and not necessarily the easiest or the quickest."

The Forest Preserve Commission will hear another presentation in two weeks.  That session will include more details into the Zoos operations and future.

The Commission may then create a committee to put together plans for a public-private partnership to provide oversight for Niabi Zoo.