ZooMontana closes for week after insurance company drops zoo's liability policy

2011-05-09T17:48:00Z 2011-05-18T07:34:54Z ZooMontana closes for week after insurance company drops zoo's liability policy

By CHELSEA KROTZER

Of The Gazette Staff‌

The Billings Gazette

ZooMontana’s liability insurance policy was canceled on Monday, and the zoo will be closed for the rest of the week.

Zoo Board President Ian McDonald said the insurance agent, Taylor-Leavitt Insurance, called McDonald on Monday about the policy.

The policy is carried by Philadelphia Insurance, which dropped the zoo.

Taylor-Leavitt is working with the zoo to find a new insurance carrier.

“They said the payment was late, but it was made,” McDonald said. “Now they are sending the money back and canceling the policy.”

McDonald said he tried obtaining a blanket insurance policy for the week, but no such policy exists.

“It’s my goal to get a policy in place by the end of the week here,” McDonald said.

Accounts of what happened differed among the zoo board and staff.

Zoo Director Jackie Worstell, who submitted her resignation in February, but has since said she may stay, said the zoo did not have enough money to make payments this winter. Word of the zoo’s financial struggles became public in February.

“We are all paid up now, but the problem is the insurance company just right now doesn’t have faith in knowing we would be a good client,” Worstell said. “They’ve been following the zoo’s history of seeing that there is no solid plan for future funding.

“It was our renewal time, so they didn’t renew with us.”

However, McDonald said that the policy was renewed in January and that, if Philadelphia Insurance was thinking of dropping the zoo, they would have known earlier.

“If this was an issue and there was any inkling we were going to get dropped, we should have been looking before today,” McDonald said. “That’s part of the miscommunication — why do we find out today when we could have been looking for someone else while we have coverage?”

Such issues between the zoo board and staff were highlighted during the Association of Zoo’s and Aquarium’s recent site visit to the zoo.

Worstell said the committee was concerned by the number of staff resignations. About five resigned around the time that the zoo’s financial issues became public.

Through pledges and donations, the community raised more than $500,000 for the zoo in March.

Zoo Director of Marketing Daniel Lundquist submitted his formal resignation on Friday after growing frustrated with the board. He issued a blistering press release, citing lack of a long-term plan for the zoo.

“As stated months ago, I issued a conditional letter of resignation based on the short and long term plans and support of the board. Like the past 15 years of the zoo’s history, no substantial action has taken place in 2011 addressing this matter. In order for the Board of Directors to find a suitable replacement, I will be departing ZooMontana by early June,” Lundquist said in the release, which McDonald said he did not receive.

Director Worstell echoed that sentiment on Monday.

“It’s the staff’s frustration with some lack of commitment from the board to ensure that the organization is fiscally sound,” Worstell said.

Lundquist told The Gazette that a zookeeper also resigned on Monday.

Worstell said issues between the board and staff existed before she took the job in May 2006.

“This isn’t the first time that concern has come up through the AZA,” Worstell said.

As for the insurance policy, she said, if the board were to come up with a solution this week, the zoo could open sooner.

“The decision we made was to keep our guests, as well as the zoo, safe,” Worstell said.

If the board is not successful in securing insurance, this weekend’s Geranium Fest may not take place. Lundquist said as it stands, women from the Horticultural Committee will be selling plants to raise money for the zoo on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission to the zoo that day is $3.

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