Meade Construction Files Lawsuit Against Columbus Zoo

A construction company whose no-tender selection by former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officials caught the attention of investigators has filed a lawsuit against the zoo in the Ohio Supreme Court , the latest decision in what court documents describe as a course, back and -forth between the two sides since last year.

The Tuesday morning filing by Meade Construction seeks an order requiring the zoo to produce documents requested by the construction company under the state public records law, specifically the contract of the zoo’s new CEO, Tom Schmid.

Former zoo CEO Tom Stalf personally selected Meade as the supplier for the $2 million Straker Lake cabin project at The Wilds, without soliciting tenders or going through the usual “design-build” process, an external investigation and forensic audit concluded last year.

Zoo: Former Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Stalf to repay $400,000; lawyer says he was a ‘scapegoat’

Forensic auditors could not confirm that any quid pro quo took place between Stalf and company chairman Andrew Meade, although they did note that the company’s selection for the cabin project raised a ” insider question by the former CEO,” and deemed “the characteristics involved in this transaction highly suspicious.”

But in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit on Tuesday, Meade said the audit report was “riddled with false and misleading statements that insinuated and came close to accusing me of bribing the zoo’s former CEO” for win the contract to build the cabins. He said the allegations were “obviously false”.

Columbus Zoo officials did not immediately provide comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.

The Columbus Zoo and Meade Construction have had ongoing discussions

As part of the zoo’s investigations last year, zoo lawyers contacted the construction company, requesting documents and an interview with Meade about the cabin project, according to Meade’s affidavit. Meade and his team shared information with the zoo and freely interviewed their lawyers about the project, he said.

Meade’s team also requested documents from the zoo during those discussions “to fill in some gaps,” the affidavit says. They requested copies of the minutes of council meetings, including a special meeting where Meade was informed that the council had discussed approving the construction of the cabin. The zoo would not provide the records, according to court records.

Meade then made a written public records request to the zoo in March for its public records retention schedule and the contract between the zoo and its new CEO Tom Schmid. This time, Meade’s team made the request via an anonymous email account, due to the zoo’s “lack of transparency and apparent animosity towards me,” Meade wrote.

The next day, a zoo spokeswoman responded to the email, denying the request and stating that the zoo “is not a public entity for purposes of Ohio public records law,” according to court documents. She said the zoo’s records retention schedule was being updated, but the zoo generally retains records for seven years.

Meade declares Columbus Zoo archives public

The zoo receives nearly $20 million in public taxes each year, its employees participate in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, its board of directors is made up of numerous government appointees, and it operates on a property owned by the City of Columbus. Therefore, according to Meade’s complaint, the court should “order zoo officials to cease concealing its actions from the public.”

The public records lawsuit comes more than a year after a Dispatch investigation uncovered improper business practices and use of zoo resources by Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell. The couple quit at the end of March 2021, following the Dispatch report and amid ongoing investigations into the zoo, and earlier this year agreed to repay the zoo more than $530,000 under settlement agreements. regulation.

Yet current zoo officials “cling desperately to secrecy” and seek to “divert attention from these wrongdoings, shifting blame indiscriminately,” Meade’s complaint said.

If Meade Construction’s case is successful, “all citizens of Ohio will be able to obtain public records from the zoo on important topics such as animal welfare, land use policies, and executive compensation,” Meade said in a press release Tuesday.

“Multiple scandals involving mismanagement and a lack of oversight have plagued the Columbus Zoo recently,” Meade Construction spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said in the press release.

“Although its new CEO says the zoo welcomes public scrutiny, he clings to secrecy while blaming others for his troubles. Fortunately, Ohio law offers sunshine as a remedy for citizens who want the transparency of public entities like the zoo, which has received nearly $1 billion in public funds and whose employees receive taxpayer-funded pensions.

Check for updates to this developing story.

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