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LOCAL taxpayers now know how Watoto, Bamboo and Chai feel at the Woodland Park Zoo. Helping pay the bills does not earn respectful treatment.

The zoo receives many tens of millions of dollars from public coffers but resolutely refuses to explain how it spends the money. Tax dollars disappear into a void with no transparency or accountability.

A lawsuit filed last spring ended July 25 with a ruling by a King County Superior Court judge that said the zoo was not subject to the state’s public-records laws. The judge did acknowledge the public’s frustration in not being able to follow the money.

The legal question can be appealed. What is stunning is the refusal by the zoo’s board of directors to tell taxpayers where the money goes.

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The zoo would be a beneficiary of Proposition 1’s Park District, which only compounds the taxpayer-provided free lunch, and builds the wall of secrecy higher.

The zoo has three unhappy female elephants in cramped space. Perhaps the zoo will ship Watoto to another zoo — perhaps to make room for another female to breed. This is the same profit-driven instinct for a fertile return on investments that had the zoo trying and failing 112 times to artificially inseminate Chai.

City Hall has been out of the zoo business since 2002 when operation and management of Woodland Park Zoo was contracted out to the Woodland Park Zoological Society. All City Hall does now is write huge checks. Taxpayers who provide the money can apparently be ignored with legal impunity if they ask how it gets spent.

One solution is clear. Send the zoo’s three miserable elephants to the friendly, nurturing environment of a wildlife sanctuary. Give them room to roam.

How bad are things at the Woodland Park Zoo for elephants? What does cramped space really mean? One of the poor creatures has suffered from urine burns, scalded by her own waste water.

Find a decent home for the elephants, and respect taxpayers enough to tell them how their money is spent.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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