This time, the battle came south, to the halls of the Legislature, where lawmakers Thursday heard testimony on a bill that would make the zoo subject to state open-records laws. HB 1425 would make nonprofit organizations that have been given government funding and tasked with performing a government job subject to state open-records and open-meetings laws.
The zoo sits on public land and will receive more than $7 million next year in Seattle city money.
“Nothing is more fundamental to trust in government and our democracy,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor. “And sadly, we have to bring this bill forward, because people sometimes forget that.”
Few in the audience seemed to forget. Supporters of the bill who testified ranged from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, public-records activist Arthur West and several citizens bedecked in orange “Elephants suffer at WPZ” T-shirts.
Jeff Leppo, vice chairman of the Woodland Park Zoo Society board, which oversees the zoo, apologized for the society’s December meeting, which shut out some protesters as well as media.
But, “With one exception, the board has successfully held public meetings and provided public comment at every meeting for nearly 15 years without incident,” Leppo told lawmakers.
Robert Davidson, chief executive officer of the Seattle Aquarium, which could be swept up in the new law if it passes, also testified against the bill. Other than the aquarium property, which is owned by the City of Seattle, and a small maintenance budget to keep it up, the facility receives no government funding, according to Davidson.