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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

Zoo task force s questions for Dennler hit time limit

Toledo Zoo Executive Director William Dennler holds up organizational diagrams while answering questions from the Special Citizens Task Force. The chairman halted the questions after an hour and a half at yesterday s meeting. Toledo Zoo Executive Director William Dennler holds up organizational diagrams while answering questions from the Special Citizens Task Force. The chairman halted the questions after an hour and a half at yesterday s meeting.

The Toledo Zoo s top official came to the meeting to talk about zoo organizational structure, but committee members began asking questions too many questions.

Committee Chairman Robert Reinbolt cut them off at yesterday s weekly meeting of the Special Citizens Task Force investigating problems at the zoo, saying he had guaranteed that Zoo Executive Director William Dennler s testimony would only take an hour.

I wanted to keep it on a general nature. Specific info is best addressed in subcommittees, said Mr. Reinbolt. I committed only an hour to Mr. Dennler, and I wanted to keep it at that we ran an hour and a half.

Mr. Reinbolt then added that the subcommittee meetings, where the most dramatic testimony would likely take place, could be closed to the public.

And, he said, the committee has decided only he and Marty Skeldon, co-chairman, would talk to the press. Other committee members would be barred from making public statements.

County commissioners set up the 14-member task force after being deluged with complaints about the firing of Tim Reichard, the zoo s head veterinarian for the last 22 years.

Zoo administrators said Dr. Reichard was fired Feb. 28 because of management and administrative problems, but Dr. Reichard said he believed he was terminated for speaking frankly with federal inspectors about animal deaths and animal-care problems at the zoo.

Mr. Dennler, during his testimony yesterday, talked about the zoo s mission statement, annual report, history, general management structure, and importance to Toledo.

He also mentioned levy funding, pointing out that when the zoo was taken over from the city in 1982, a little less than 70 percent of its operational budget came from levies, as opposed to around 30 percent now.

Last year, the zoo received $11.4 million in county taxpayer money half for operations from two levies. The other half comes from its 10-year capital levy, which expires this year.

It was when board members began asking detailed questions about zoo operations that they were cut short by Mr. Reinbolt.

All this was was an organizational overview. He wasn t coming here to be grilled, said task force Co-Chairman Marty Skeldon, son of former zoo director Phil Skeldon.

But Mr. Skeldon said he did not know at this point whether Mr. Dennler would be called back before the task force.

In one task force exchange last night, Doug Young, who was once a zoo keeper at the Toledo Zoo when it was run by the city, asked Mr. Dennler to explain the zoo s management structure concerning animal care.

Pointing to a zoo organizational chart listing all employees under Mr. Dennler, Mr. Young asked, Those are the only folks directly involved with animal care?

Yes, Mr. Dennler replied.

Mr. Young then pointed to the employees on the chart under the zoo s chief operating officer Robert Harden, which included the zoo s veterinarians.

I guess I m curious as to why the vets and the veterinarian technicians are not under animal care, Mr. Young asked Mr. Dennler.

It was largely the size of the group, and the number of people reporting to different people. We re trying to divide the zoo up so that neither Bob nor I [had too many], Mr. Dennler explained. Money being what it is, we didn t want another high management position.

Mr. Reinbolt interjected: I guess the issue we re dealing with today is that this is what the structure is.

Past and present officers from the Toledo Zoological Society board of directors also were on hand to give an overview of how the board worked, the amount of time involved, and in what ways it interacted with zoo management.

The board meetings aren t just an old boys club. ... The questioning is often ferocious, said zoo board vice president Tony Shelbourn.

When the zoo officials left, Mr. Reinbolt then went on with committee business: assigning task force members to four subcommittees that had been created last week, including personnel and operations, finances, animal care, and governance.

Mr. Reinbolt said the subcommittee meetings would not necessarily be open to the public, adding that the county prosecutor s office had advised him that committees with less than half the full membership of the board were not required to be open to the public.

However, Ohio s Sunshine law calls for all committees and subcommittees of public bodies to open their meetings to the public.

And, in a 2001 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Sunshine Law applies to any committee or subcommittee of a legislative authority of a political subdivision.

Mr. Reinbolt said while he didn t want the public to feel excluded and still seeks comments at zootaskforce@co.lucas.oh.us he wanted those present to feel as open as possible when testifying.

We also want to be careful when we re dealing with people who want to step forward but are afraid of retribution, Mr. Skeldon added.

But when presented with the prospect of too many subcommittees being closed to the public, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the county commissioners, said last night: I don t think that would be in the spirit of what the commissioners felt was going to occur.

One meeting that task force members want to keep closed is slated for next Thursday, when Dr. Reichard will be invited to speak to the full task force. Mr. Reinbolt said that because the meeting will be an executive session dealing with personnel issues, it would be closed to the public.

Contact Tad Vezner at:tvezner@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.

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