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Sign on Thomas Road marks the entrance to BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo, seen Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

An administrator the Baton Rouge Zoo hired to help it regain its accreditation was forced out of his previous job amid an investigation into cash-handling practices during his tenure there, but BREC officials say they did an extensive background check on Jim Fleshman and are confident they made the right decision to bring him on board.

Fleshman joined the Baton Rouge Zoo last month. He was asked to leave his job at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas, last April — after 18 years on the job.

"BREC performs an extensive background search of all senior level employees such as Mr. Fleshman, including conversations with references, former employees and review and consideration of all news articles following a Google search of the name," BREC officials said in a written statement in response to questions about Fleshman.

"After review and consideration of all the information presented to us, Jim's 30 years of experience in the zoo industry … and his stellar reputation with those in the zoo industry, we are delighted to add such an accomplished professional to our team," the statement continues.

The Advocate requested a copy of Fleshman's application but had not receive by the time of publishing because parish offices and agencies were closed Thursday due to the threat of severe weather and again on Friday for Good Friday observances. 

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported Fleshman resigned amid an independent accounting firm's inquiry into cash-handling practices at the Waco zoo, and that the zoo's oversight board discussed poor communication and allegations of nepotism during Fleshman's tenure. The audit revealed lapses in the zoo's financial practices that resulted in administrative changes after his departure, the newspaper reported in January. 

The Cameron Park Zoological and Botanical Society, which operates the Waco park, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

As the Baton Rouge Zoo's deputy director, Fleshman is paid an annual salary of $95,235 annually. His duties in Baton Rouge include overseeing curators, grounds and maintenance and animal welfare at the Baton Rouge Zoo. He also supervises staff and provides administrative support with respect to the zoo's operating plan and financial budget. 

BREC hired Fleshman on March 1 after a nearly three-month search. According to BREC officials, Fleshman was the only person interviewed among 15 people who applied for the position.

"He has had 30-plus years of a stellar career that has been anything but controversial," zoo spokeswoman Robyn Lott stated.

Fleshman's career in the zoo industry began in 1987 where he rose within the ranks at the Abilene Zoological Gardens in Texas before becoming the executive director of the zoo in Waco in 2000, his resume states. 

As director of the Cameron Park Zoo, he managed a $5.7 million annual budget. His resumé states that he raised more than $18 million for the zoo and increased visitor attendance during his tenure. It also says he secured funds for and oversaw completion of a $9.5 million expansion project.

His resume says further that he has consulted for zoos in Arkansas, Kansas, Argentina and Chile. In addition, he's held several different positions within the American Zoo and Aquarium Association since 1995, presently serving as a professional fellow and a member of the association's ethics board. 

The Baton Rouge Zoo is in the preliminary stages of a massive redevelopment proposal officials have said his essential to regaining the facility's AZA accreditation, which it lost because of antiquated infrastructure, attractions and animal exhibits. 


Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.