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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2005

2 executives trade Volvos for Pontiacs

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A Pontiac Bonneville driven by Executive Director William Dennler is parked in the administration lot at the Toledo Zoo. 
A Pontiac Bonneville driven by Executive Director William Dennler is parked in the administration lot at the Toledo Zoo.
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The Toledo Zoo s top two executives have traded in their pricey leased Volvos provided by the zoo for a pair of Pontiac Bonnevilles.

For now, the Bonneville sedans are leased in the names of Executive Director William Dennler and Chief Operating Officer Robert Harden, but the zoo board of directors finance committee is reviewing its policies to determine who should foot the bill for the cost of the new cars. Models of the 2005 Bonneville carry a sticker price ranging from about $27,000 to $36,000.

Until this month, Mr. Dennler was driving a 2005 Volvo SUV that cost $673.94 per month. His base salary is $150,000 and his total compensation package which includes retirement benefits, a car, and a $7,980 membership to the Toledo Country Club lifts that total to $173,950.

Mr. Harden, who drove a Volvo sedan leased for $609.04 per month, said auto dealer Ed Schmidt agreed to a new lease package that made the numbers work out to quickly put the executives behind the wheel of new Bonnevilles without large penalties for terminating the leases on the Volvos.

They are American-made, on the lot, and ready to go, said Mr. Harden, who receives total compensation of $119,081 from the zoo.

The zoo, which is partly funded by $11.4 million in Lucas County property taxes, recently leased the Volvos, replacing a Jeep and Dodge previously leased for them. The zoo put down $3,000 on each four-year Volvo lease.

Earlier this month, Mr. Dennler explained that he chose the Volvo SUV because it is a safer car and has better gas mileage than the Jeeps I ve been driving over the last 7-8 years. Safety ratings show the vehicles have similar safety and gas mileage ratings.

After a public outcry, Mr. Dennler admitted the mistake, saying that Volvo is owned by Ford. I guess I didn t expect the reaction.

Asked why the two zoo officials didn t lease Toledo-built Jeep Libertys, Mr. Harden explained the lease of the Bonnevilles, which are built in Hamtramck, Mich., by saying, I prefer a sedan over an SUV, noting the lease had nothing to do with the make or model of the vehicle.

These cars were on the lot, ready to go, Mr. Harden said. We needed cars ready to go. They make sense for us, for the kind of cars we both like.

The dealership also sells the Jeep Liberty.

Steve Staelin, president of the zoo s board of directors, said the

Bonnevilles are leased in the names of the executives, and they exercised their personal choice. He said the finance committee is in the process of developing a policy on company cars and will report back to the board with suggestions.

The board will take action at that time, Mr. Staelin said. Automobiles, like in other organizations, are considered part of a compensation package. It s really an allocation of the compensation because of the amount of driving that is done on zoo business.

He said the board has several options regarding the vehicles, including leasing them directly, providing an allowance to the two executives, or paying the two based on the number of miles they drive on zoo business.

Where the committee will come out, I don t know at this point, he said. Whatever personal use might be out of that is allocated to them as personal income and they pay taxes on it.

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



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