720-913-5000 auditor@denvergov.org

STATEMENT OF AUDITOR TIMOTHY M. O’BRIEN REGARDING STALLED AUDIT OF DENVER ZOO

[see links to local media stories at the end of the Auditor’s statement]

Today I sent a letter to Mayor Hancock giving notice that the Denver Zoo is in breach of its agreement with the City & County of Denver.  Since November, my office has been trying unsuccessfully to audit the Zoo.  The “Cooperative Agreement” negotiated between the City and the Denver Zoological Foundation (Zoo) gives the City Auditor authority to perform audits of the Zoo.  We have been unable to gain even the initial information we need to determine the scope of the audit.

The City Charter in Section 5.2.1 requires the Auditor to conduct audits in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards promulgated by the United States Comptroller General.  Those standards demand that the Auditor determine the audit scope and appropriate methods to conduct the audit.  The Zoo has continually stated that the Auditor cannot conduct interviews of Zoo staff without Zoo management and/or board trustees being present.  The Zoo’s approach is not consistent with audit industry standards.

In addition to serving as the City’s agent in managing 93 acres of City Park and related zoological facilities, the Zoo gets millions of dollars from City General Fund money, Scientific and Cultural Facilities sales tax money, and City-provided bond funding for major projects like the parking garage and key exhibits.  Despite the huge influx of public funds, the Zoo has claimed that its financial records are confidential.

After first denying on December 18 that the Zoo is subject to audit provisions, a Zoo spokeswoman went on to say that the agreement with the City required disclosure of the audit scope prior to commencing interviews.  There is no such requirement in the agreement.  On February 4, one board member revealed the Zoo’s interest in delaying any audit results until after the November election to reauthorize SCFD funding.

My office wants to fulfill the public interest by auditing the Zoo. It’s a significant City contract with millions of public dollars attached over many decades.  Because of its lack of cooperation, we have been unable to conduct a risk assessment of the Zoo to determine the areas that deserve scrutiny.  Members of the public told me about their concerns related to the proposed waste-to-energy or gasification plant; among the matters we hoped to investigate was the money spent on the plant, and the current plans for the facility.  But the Zoo said it had no information beyond its September press release announcing that the facility would not be built at City Park.

The Zoo’s obstruction has increased the perceived risk to the City involved in this contract.  We have to wonder, what is it that the Zoo doesn’t want us to discover?

Read Auditor O’Brien’s letter to Mayor Hancock.  The “Cooperative Agreement” between the City and the Zoo is available here.

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