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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Zoo task force might partner with board

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With a dearth of Toledo Zoo employees coming forward to speak about life on the job, members of the citizens task force assigned to investigate the organization searched for other ways to gain employee insights.

Last night, their search led them to a possible partnership with the zoo s own board of directors.

The citizen task force was created by Lucas County commissioners after a fire storm of controversy surrounding the firing of head zoo veterinarian Dr. Tim Reichard. It is charged with investigating animal care, finances, operations, and leadership at the zoo.

Its members are currently conducting their investigation independent of a second investigation by the zoo board.

Both bodies previously spoke of surveying zoo employees in order to reach those who did not want to speak of their experiences in an open forum.

But last night, Linnie Willis, chairman of the task force s personnel subcommittee, expressed concern that two separate surveys would burn employees out.

If people are tired or over-surveyed, over-interviewed, then you get nothing, she said.

Sitting before the task force, Stephen Staelin, president of the zoo board, and Vice President Tony Shelbourn offered to allow the group to oversee their own anonymous survey, which they hope to begin next month.

We d be open to input from the committee as to issues that perhaps we are blinded to. Maybe we re just a little too close to it, Mr. Staelin said.

In other words, Mr. Staelin elaborated, the task force could give recommendations as to specific questions that the zoo board might not have included and view the anonymous findings.

But the final say as to which questions would be asked would remain with the zoo board, Mr. Staelin said.

The zoo board s proposition received a mixed reaction from the committee.

First to comment was attorney R. Michael Frank, who called the proposal a wonderful idea though he reserved the right for the task force to conduct its own survey if it was not satisfied with the board s.

Too often, when committees like this are appointed, not only does the [zoo] board think that it s us against them, but the public thinks that it should be us against them. The best way to resolve problems like this is to put the fox in the chicken coop, he said.

But task force member Larry Conway strongly disagreed.

If you re doing a survey [of your own], you re muddying the waters, Mr. Conway said.

Task force member Doug Young said he had reservations. If we are to be a true oversight board, we don t want to immerse ourselves in your studies, he said.

Most board members were somewhere in the middle on the idea though several worried out loud about the public perception of a pairing of the groups efforts.

In the end, the task force voted to meet with zoo board members to give input into the design of the survey though it reserved the right to conduct its own survey if it was not satisfied with the zoo board s final product.

Mr. Conway remained opposed to the idea, while Ms. Willis abstained.

The chairmen of the task force s four subcommittees, along with their consultant from the University of Toledo who specializes in surveys, hope to meet with the zoo board next week to review the questions.

During last night s meeting, Mr. Staelin also acknowledged that in recent years the zoo board had not been active enough with human resources issues at the zoo.

We identified a gap. We are reacting to that gap, Mr. Staelin said.

William Dennler, the zoo s executive director, later spoke to the committee in a closed session.

Robert Reinbolt, the task force s chairman, commented only that the session was very informative.

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



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