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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Meeting tomorrow to begin panel's review of zoo actions

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The citizens task force charged with examining the operations of the Toledo Zoo is set to hold its first meeting tomorrow afternoon.

The meeting, which is slated for 3 p.m. at the Lucas County Emergency Services Training Center near downtown, marks the beginning of the review of concerns raised after the firing last month of head veterinarian Tim Reichard. The 14-member committee, appointed by the Lucas County commissioners, includes community leaders, business people, and animal-care professionals.

The introductory gathering will focus on the business side of the task force - scheduling meetings, launching subcommittees, and familiarizing members with the process, said Robert Reinbolt, who will lead the task force.

"I have been anxious to get started, so I am glad we are meeting as soon as this," said Mr. Reinbolt, a consultant and longtime city administrator. "The whole community is looking forward to getting this under review."

After 22 years as head veterinarian, Dr. Reichard was terminated because of concerns about his administrative and management style, zoo officials have said. The veterinarian, though, believes he was disciplined and eventually fired because he spoke openly to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about animal-care problems at the zoo.

"It never hurts for any organization to have outside people looking into it," Mr. Reinbolt said.

Tomorrow's meeting will be open to the public, but the openness of all future meetings - which will likely include discussions of personnel matters and testimony from zoo workers - has not been decided, Mr. Reinbolt said. He said the task force does not want "to hide anything," but he is worried that fully open meetings would be "detrimental to getting employees in there willing to speak their mind."

"It's a new thing. We haven't done it before," Mr. Reinbolt said. "We've been appointed by elected officials, yet we are private citizens looking at a quasi-public agency. We certainly have a public purpose in mind."

The zoo, which is partly funded by $11.4 million in property tax money this year, is governed by the Toledo Zoological Society with no county oversight. The zoological society's board of directors heard a presentation from Dr. Reichard last week and initiated two subcommittees to review his request for reinstatment to his job. The board committees will also look at operations at the zoo.

The task force has set up an e-mail address for members of the community to share questions or concerns regarding the zoo. The address is zootaskforce@co.lucas.oh.us.

Members of the community can attend tomorrow's meeting at the Lucas County Emergency Services Training Center, 2127 Jefferson Ave. No testimony or public questions will be taken at the meeting.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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