An emotional and relieved Dr. Tim Reichard walked out of a two-hour meeting with the Toledo Zoo board of directors last night confident that he would soon be back at his post caring for animals.
With his wife, Sue, and daughter, Brynne, by his side - and the backing of some two dozen well-wishers demonstrating with placards along the Anthony Wayne Trail, including some current zoo employees - the veterinarian choked back tears as he talked about the outpouring of support that led to his hearing before the board.
"The e-mails, the letters, it's been totally overwhelming,'' he said, predicting: "It won't be long and I'll be back'' as chief veterinarian.
Dr. Reichard was fired Feb. 28 after 22 years of service at the zoo for what zoo executives said were administrative and management difficulties.
The former zoo veterinarian said last week that he began to fall out of favor at the zoo when he spoke candidly with federal inspectors about animal-care problems at the zoo in February, 2004. After years of glowing annual job evaluations, he said, zoo officials began reprimanding him.
The board announced no decision on rehiring Dr. Reichard when it came out of its five-hour session, which was closed to the public and the press.
The board did announce the formation of two committees. One committee will review the foot-high stack of documents the veterinarian presented to the board. That committee is expected to report its findings in two weeks. The second committee will look into the zoo's "corporate culture" and will survey employees.
"What's going on right now is going to bash morale,'' said board Vice President Tony Shelbourn, who will be chairman of the corporate culture committee. "What's going on now is trial-by-media," Mr. Shelbourn said.
"We want to make sure due process is served,'' he said.
These two new committees will be in addition to a Special Citizens Task Force, expected to be appointed today by Lucas County commissioners. The task force will be charged with investigating everything at the zoo, including animal-care issues, finances, and perks given to top zoo officials.
The zoo is funded in large part by two Lucas County property tax levies that will provide it with $11.4 million this year.
After his meeting with the board, Dr. Reichard praised board members for the quality of their questions, characterizing the meeting as "fair and open." He declined to provide specifics about what was discussed, or reveal what information the board was interested in, saying he had agreed to keep the conversation in the executive session confidential at the request of the board.
"I tried to paint a picture to educate [the board about] the challenges of a zoo veterinarian,'' he said.
"You have responsibility to the institution. You have responsibility to the [U.S. Department of Agriculture]. You have responsibility to the animals. You can get taken to task if you don't fulfill those responsibilities,'' he said.
Since his dismissal, other veterinarians have told him, he said, that they left zoo work because of these conflicting pressures.
Dr. Reichard apparently discussed in detail the sequence of events that led to his firing, including his evaluations and reprimands.
He said if he is reinstated, "what a model we can be to the community, if we can overcome ... and work these things out and make this a better place.''
Dr. Reichard's supporters said that their demonstration in favor of the veterinarian was a pro-zoo action.
"People need to know we really do support the zoo. That's why we're out here. Because Dr. Tim made it so great,'' said one zoo employee who declined to be identified.
"He's a voice for a lot of the keepers. He won't compromise his ethics. He's an excellent communicator ... He's passionate about his concerns,'' said a keeper in the reptile department who declined to be identfied.
Before the meeting, board President Stephen Staelin said, "We think it's only fair'' to meet with Dr. Reichard. "He deserves it. ...We decided to have him tell his side of the story.''
The zoo has been under continuing pressure from the community to reverse its firing of Dr. Reichard.
Yesterday a group of 33 area veterinarians signed a letter to zoo Executive Director William Dennler, expressing concern over the dismissal.
While acknowledging Mr. Dennler's role in improving the zoo's programs and prominence over the years, the letter said Dr. Reichard had played a important part in that success.
"Dr. Tim Reichard has always been an advocate for the zoo and its charges.
"The bottom line is that he is a major asset to the Toledo Zoo," the letter said.
Dr. Reichard, a native of Sharon in western Pennsylvania, grew up on a farm near Transfer, Pa., and worked with animals most of his life.
He has a master's degree in wildlife biology and management from Michigan State University, and graduated from the veterinary school at Washington State University. He completed a two-year internship at the San Diego Zoo before coming to the Toledo Zoo in 1982.
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