For Immediate Release
Monday, July 28th (Seattle, WA) – Before a packed courtroom of elephant advocates on Friday, a judge allowed the Woodland Park Zoo continue operating under a veil of secrecy. In Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo, King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that the Zoo is not subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act despite the fact that it receives a significant amount of tax dollars every year.
As Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Fortgang has filed multiple public disclosure requests to the Zoo. Frequently the Zoo was non-responsive to requests for basic financial and animal welfare information or provided information that would later prove to be grossly inaccurate.
Rob Roy Smith, with Kilpatrick, Townsend, & Stockton, LLP, representing Ms. Fortgang said: “This is dark day for our state’s sunshine laws. The Zoo’s position, that it can take taxpayer dollars but not tell taxpayers how they are used, is Exhibit A as to why Prop. 1 is a bad idea.”
For years, Woodland Park Zoo has held out its hand for massive taxpayer support while with the other slapping away taxpayer requests for transparency and accountability. To date, the Zoo has received about $126 million tax dollars since the City of Seattle turned over operation of the zoo to the Zoological Society in 2002. Under the contract between the City and the Zoo, it can count on at least $203,000,000 in total funding, yet the public cannot count on information on how it uses our tax dollars.
Judge Rietschel found that the amount of taxpayer money and the free use of City parkland, city buildings and animals given to the Zoo was significant, but said that her hands were tied by a prior Court of Appeals decision. The Judge expressed her sympathy for plaintiff Alyne Fortgang’s position and stated that “citizens should be able to follow the money”.
In addition to the ongoing contractual obligation of City and County taxpayers to send millions of dollars to the Zoo, Prop 1, if passed, is slated to give the Zoo up to additional $34 million dollars. “Prop. 1 will be another taxpayer giveaway to the Zoo without any public accountability,” said Smith.
Ms. Fortgang is considering all of her legal options including an appeal.