Community Comment:

Zoo mess just reveals depth of crisis in city's leadership


Special to the Courier & Press

Thursday, June 24, 1999


So, we learn from the headlines that the Evansville City Council has peaked out on the long-simmering personnel woes at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden. 

Here, here; it is about time.  However, as with most things pertaining to the city administration, don't expect our illustrious "leaders" to do the right thing or come up with a solution that satisfied the people of this community.

The whole flap is an excellent case study in the leadership crisis of this community and it demonstrates the modus operandi if virtually everything that occurs in city and county government.

As city officials several weeks ago adopted a circle-the-wagons ploy in an attempt to reverse the lost accreditation of the American Zoo and aquarium Association, outgoing Mayor Frank F. McDonald II has once again risen above the fray and is totally immune from any political consequences as the result of this, as well as many other controversies.

Being honored with outstanding achievement awards by civic groups, an honorary doctorate at the University of Southern Indiana and a golden parachute job at Civitas Bank, McDonald helps the power establishment of this community once again demonstrate the extent to which it remains in serious denial about his real record and the manifold problems that plague this community directly involving various city agencies.

The approach is legendary:  appoint a board or commission to study a problem or the needs on a certain public issue; maybe hire an out-of-town consultant to devise a plan of action.

Then, let the board or commission make the ultimate decision regarding whatever action is taken, and then, if there are any negative repercussions, let the board or the underling city administration appointees, take all the heat and the brunt of the public controversy.

Over the years, this has worked wonders on the landfill issue, The Victory Theater renovation, virtually any problem associated with minorities, renovation of urban areas,, and many other situations.

If the City Council members think that this latest flap over the firing of veteran zoo keeper Madeline Southard has jeopardized public confidence in the new $30 million zoo master plan, for once they actually get it.

After the Victory debacle, it is hard for anyone here to believe that the members care one white about what the public thinks when they play fast and loose with public bonding authority.

Ditto, the renovation of Dress Plaza, the Pigeon Creek Greenway Project and virtually any other major public-works project undertaken by the city.

Meanwhile, Republican Mayoral candidate Russell Lloyd Jr. is losing a golden opportunity to make some serious political mileage on this as well as other controversies around town.

As his handlers attempt to trot him out like a candidate poured out of a vanilla ice cream mold served up with hearts, flowers and a big red bow, McDonald and all his crony associates emerge totally unscathed in all of this.

Lloyd should be calling for the resignation of the zoo Director Ron Young.  He should be calling for the reinstatement of Southard with back pay and, perhaps, a public decoration for her courage.  He should also call for the postponement of any decision on the zoo master plan until after the November election.

After all, his father was responsible for bringing the Teamsters in as the barganing unit for many city employees, and he would no doubt mine some votes by rhetorically supporting Southard.

A wise old man named Henry Schmidt once lamented long ago, "A fish rots from the head down." 

Truer words have never been spoken as they pertain to this present city administration.

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.