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BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight speaks, Tuesday, July 11, 2017, at the BREC Perkins Road Community Park in Baton Rouge, La. during the second of seven community meetings to discuss renovating or relocating the Baton Rouge Zoo.

A Baton Rouge metro council member and fierce opponent of moving the Baton Rouge Zoo called Thursday for the resignation of the head of the Baton Rouge recreation and parks agency after secret recordings of her discussions about the zoo were emailed en masse to those in Baton Rouge political circles.

The board that oversees Baton Rouge recreation and parks is expected to vote at 5 p.m. today at BREC's headquarters on whether to relocate the Baton Rouge Zoo from Greenwood Park in north Baton Rouge to Airline Highway Park in southeast Baton Rouge. BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight has pushed hard for the move, saying that the zoo could die if it remains at its current location. But opposition has stiffened in recent weeks.

Hours before the vote on Thursday morning, an anonymous email account called "real friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo" — a play on the zoo's private foundation named "Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo" — sent 13 secretly recorded audio clips of McKnight to BREC board members, Metro Council members, media members and others.

The recordings are mostly seconds-long snippets of McKnight's conversations. The longest of the recordings is one minute and 30 seconds. In the conversations, which The Advocate has reviewed, McKnight discusses the faults of the Greenwood location for the zoo, complains about Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks and explains the extent of her conversations with potential donors for the zoo relocation.

In one recording, McKnight said she does not expect that taxpayers would pass a tax to build a new zoo. And in another, she said she would love to move the zoo under control of another group willing to run it, rather than BREC. McKnight says in another recording that she refuses to be "race-baited."

"McKnight is absolutely an obstructionist and pathological liar," Banks wrote in an emailed response to the leaked recordings. "She should render her resignation immediately or be terminated!"

McKnight responded in a statement early Thursday afternoon.

"It is unfortunate that an employee would secretly record an internal meeting between staff and I that was specifically being held to provide them with information on where we are in the process in an effort to be transparent with employees as well as the public," the superintendent said.

"It is further unfortunate that this recording has been shared with a select group of opponents to BREC‘s proposal to re-imagine the Zoo and Greenwood park in an effort to further divide the community on this issue.

"Anyone who has spent time around Councilwoman Banks is familiar with her bullying tactics and the manner in which she seeks to divide others as it relates to issues that impact the entirety of East Baton Rouge Parish; therefore I will not dignify her statement with any further comments.”

McKnight also testified Thursday morning at the Louisiana Legislature’s committee on local and municipal affairs about the proposed SB 470, which would change the makeup of the BREC board. The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Regina Barrow- D-Baton Rouge, would increase the number of BREC board members and add more north Baton Rouge representation.

“It’s really important that the individuals who represent this area have a voice at the table,” Barrow said. “The zoo is one issue, but it’s not the only issue.”

McKnight defended the way BREC operates, saying that parks systems from around the state and country have asked her how they can restructure to be more like BREC. She said the nine-member system has representation from around the parish and that they ensure the community at-large is taken care of.

“They constantly put my feet to the fire, making sure we take care of the community at large,” McKnight said.

The committee gave the bill a favorable recording. It will now head to the Senate floor.


Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​