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Zoo Museum District begins St. Louis Art Museum inspection

Zoo Museum District begins St. Louis Art Museum inspection

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ST. LOUIS • The Zoo Museum District has requested six pages of data from the St. Louis Art Museum in preparation for an upcoming examination of the museum’s governance and finances.

The request lists 70 different kinds of documents or data, from key employment contracts to meeting minutes to a “detailed schedule of executive compensation.”

About a dozen of the items concern the pay and benefits of museum leaders, including Director Brent Benjamin, who made about $640,000 in total compensation last year.

The Zoo Museum District oversees the disbursement of about $70 million to the region’s five tax-supported cultural institutions — the Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Science Center and St. Louis Zoo, as well as the Art Museum.

It is the third institution audited by the district. The first examination, of the St. Louis Science Center, revealed five-figure executive bonuses and a bevy of center vice presidents. The second, of the Missouri History Museum, uncovered a million-dollar land deal between the museum and a former board member, ex-Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr.

Zoo Museum District board member Tom Campbell said this summer he did not suspect any wrongdoing when he made the motion to inspect the Art Museum.

A few years ago the board committed to reviewing all five institutions. The Art Museum seemed like a good fit this year, Campbell said then, since it had just finished its $130 million, 210,000 square-foot addition.

A few Zoo Museum District leaders presented their request to museum trustees and executives this week.

The request was wide-ranging. It asked for budgets, accounts payable reports, payroll registers, credit card statements, a list of corporate sponsors, and policies on document retention, conflict of interest and whistleblowers. It also asked for accounts of all art purchased, contributed, or removed from the museum collection since 2010.

The District said it expected auditors to be at the museum near the beginning of November, and complete a draft report in December.

Zoo Museum District board member Charlie Valier said the meeting was a bit tense. “But we're not really out on a witch hunt,” he said. “If they're going to get public money from us, they have to expect that there is going to be scrutiny.”

But board member Gloria Wessels, chair of the board’s audit committee, was frustrated — she said the meeting at the art museum had been called without input from the audit committee, or even talking to her first.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “Because I didn’t call it, and I’m the chair.”

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