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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Zoo baker links firings

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For nearly a year, Toledo Zoo managers applauded Ron Gill s impressive touch at decorating cakes for everyday guests and landmark events like Louie the elephant s birthday as he wowed patrons by cooking up the charming treats that brought in big dough for the zoo.

But the artistically inclined 36-year-old cake decorator and baker believes he was abruptly fired last month because of his outspoken support for former zoo veterinarian Tim Reichard.

Anybody at the zoo who shows any support for Dr. Tim is going to be retaliated against, said Mr. Gill, who spoke openly of his loyalty to Dr. Reichard and wore a button to work at the zoo showing support for the 22-year veterinarian, who himself was fired Feb. 28 amid controversy. I ve been an active supporter of Dr. Tim since the beginning. I m always for the underdog and I feel he got a really bum rap.

Toledo Zoo Chief Operating Officer Robert Harden said Mr. Gill s support for the fired veterinarian did not play into his dismissal. No employees have been discharged because of their support for Dr. Reichard, he said.

The reason his employment was terminated had nothing to do with the Dr. Reichard issues, said Mr. Harden, who wouldn t speak about Mr. Gill s employment, but said proper protocol was followed. That I can tell you with 100 percent certainty.

Documents in Mr. Gill s personnel file portray him as a valuable supervisor who helped lift the bakery s revenue by thousands of dollars during his first year with the zoo. Managers last year considered making him a full-time, salaried employee because of the surge in sales since his arrival. Managers believed making him a full-time employee would have increased bakery revenue by $65,000 this year, but the position was not approved.

His personnel file contained his 2004 performance review, in which he received high marks and strong praise. The evaluation, conducted by Kristin Begg, the manager of Concessions North, classified Mr. Gill as a supervisor, and noted his positive attitude and success at being a liaison between staff and management.

Great addition to the management team this season, Ms. Begg wrote in the 2004 review. His work continues to wow visitors and staff! I feel very fortunate to have him on board. Ron s work is very impressive and his ideas are surely appreciated.

Ms. Begg refused to comment about Mr. Gill s firing.

Mr. Gill s personnel file did include complaints about his behavior from co-workers and notes detailing personnel conflicts in the catering department. But there was no sign of disciplinary action against him by zoo administrators until his firing last month.

A former baker for Strauss Bakeries, Mr. Gill believes the tenor of his relationship with his managers changed after a heated discussion last month when he expressed his support for Dr. Reichard during a conversation with Nancy Golde, the zoo s assistant director of catering.

Dr. Reichard has said he believes he was fired for speaking openly with federal inspectors last year about animal deaths and animal-care issues at the zoo.

Mr. Gill s problems at the zoo began when he was charged with training a new assistant baker. He said he warned Ms. Golde in advance the new employee would be decorating the cakes on his day off, March 19, and the final product might appear different than the norm. Mr. Gill said other managers Ms. Begg and Rick Thetford, assistant director of visitor services approved the cakes before they were presented to guests.

Ms. Golde also refused to comment on Mr. Gill s firing.

On March 23, Mr. Gill was called into a meeting with Mr. Thetford and executive chef Marcel Hesseling and was reprimanded for the quality of the cakes that left the bakery during the weekend he was off.

Ron refused to take responsibility for the standard of cakes that left the bakery on Saturday, according to minutes of the meeting. The poor standard was directly related to the amount of training he provided. He refused to take any accountability, saying if he would have known he was responsible for the quality of others work, he never would have taken the position.

Mr. Gill refused to sign a verbal write-up during the meeting.

They began to tell me that I m accountable for what the other cake decorator did, said Mr. Gill, who was classified as a part-time employee earning $11 an hour. I am not going to admit I m responsible for someone else s work when I wasn t there.

He was fired the next day.

An account of the problem that led to Mr. Gill s dismissal in his personnel file said the baker failed in his responsibilities to train his staff and would not acknowledge that he had made any mistakes.

Because of these actions and other notices in his file, it has become clear that Ron does not want to be part of the team, wrote Dave DiCola, the zoo s director of visitor services and marketing, who authorized the firing.

Mr. DiCola also refused to comment on Mr. Gill s firing.

Nancy Foley, the zoo s director of employee relations, said Mr. Gill has dispatched some out-and-out lies about what took place at the zoo that led to his firing. She said there is another side to the story, which will not be told because of the zoo s policy on speaking publicly about personnel matters.

She said she had no knowledge of Mr. Gill s feelings about Dr. Reichard s dismissal and was certain it was not a consideration in the firing. She said many employees have expressed opinions about Dr. Reichard s termination.

You know there s a lot of people out here that feel strongly both ways, she said.

Mr. Gill said he would still like to return to the job he s held since early last year. He s forwarded details of his dismissal to the Lucas County commissioners task force charged with examining operations at the zoo, and he expects to have a chance to make his case before the panel.

Everybody that knows me knows I ve done an incredible job, he said. I gave the zoo 100 percent of everything I know how to do.

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



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