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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

Settlement bars zoo vet from speaking to panel

Agreement irritates co-chairman of task force

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
As part of the agreement, Dr. Tim Reichard is prevented from discussing the zoo’s operations As part of the agreement, Dr. Tim Reichard is prevented from discussing the zoo’s operations
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Toledo Zoo officials have cut a deal with Dr. Tim Reichard, fired in February as the zoo’s head veterinarian, which bars him from cooperating with the citizens task force investigating problems at the zoo.

The cost of buying his silence will be $126,000.

The agreement prohibits him from discussing “his opinions as to the welfare of the animals at the Zoo, the circumstances of his termination or reinstatement of employment, his opinions regarding personnel at the Zoo, or any other matters pertaining to the Zoo” with the media, zoo employees, professional colleagues, “or any other third parties,” unless subpoenaed.

Marty Skeldon, co-chairman of the task force, said last night he was not surprised by the zoo board decision.

“To tell you the truth, this zoo board has cut us off, our task force, in a number of different ways. First the commissioners appoint the task force. A couple days later, the zoo appoints a couple task forces of their own to investigate the same things we’re investigating.

“That in itself has hurt our task force in being able to investigate this the way we want to. They immediately interviewed their own people, and the next thing you know, nobody wants to talk to us.”

READ MORE: Crisis at the Zoo

IMPORTANT DATES

Dates in the relations between the Toledo Zoo and Dr. Tim Reichard, who was "reinstated" as an "as-needed" consultant after a six-figure settlement was reached with the zoo's board of directors.

- February, 2004: Unannounced USDA inspection, in which Dr. Reichard is interviewed concerning his responsibilities and animal care issues.

- April, 2004: Dr. Reichard given a reprimand by zoo management.

-August, 2004: Dr. Reichard given a second reprimand.

-November, 2004: Dr. Reichard is given a disciplinary report by zoo human resources consultant Scott Warrick.

- Feb. 28, 2005: Dr. Reichard is terminated.

- March 11, 2005: Lucas County Commissioners announce the formation of a "Special Citizens Task Force" to review zoo operations.

- March 17, 2005: Zoo board meets with Dr. Reichard and, at same meeting, forms two committees: one to review the ex-vet's firing, and a second to study zoo corporate culture.

- March 18, 2005: Zoo administrators terminate their contract with Mr. Warrick.

- April 30, 2005: Settlement between the zoo and Dr. Reichard announced.

Other task force members were also critical of the agreement.

Steve Pollick, a member of the task force who also is The Blade’s Outdoors Editor, called the settlement “a de facto gag order on Dr. Tim.”

“I think the task force is going to have to meet and discuss the impact of this. I’m surprised by it, and it certainly seems to me that it could cause a shift in what the task force is going to do.”

Dr. Reichard’s firing was a trigger that called attention to the zoo and its internal culture.

“Whether this settlement makes any internal problems go away is yet to be determined,” Mr. Pollick added.

Task force member R. Michael Frank said: “I’ve never heard of a situation which says you can’t talk about facts. If the document really prohibits him from talking with the task force, it might be an unwise exercise in poor public relations.”

Mr. Frank said the work of the task force will continue.

“The issues involving the zoo transcend his termination,” Mr. Frank said. “I think his termination was only the catalyst.”

After years of excellent performance evaluations, zoo officials began to discipline Dr. Reichard and then fired him after he spoke candidly to federal zoo inspectors in February, 2004 about animal deaths and animal-care issues at the zoo.

Several high-profile animals have died in recent years at the zoo with some deaths caused by, among other things, communication problems at the zoo, a zoo investigation determined last year following a critical U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report.

Dr. Reichard’s outspoken concerns about animal safety at the zoo, according to other zoo employees, caused him to clash with Zoo Executive Director William Dennler, who fired him Feb. 28.

The vets firing, plus revelations that Mr. Dennler and another top zoo official had traded in a Jeep and a Dodge and leased luxury Volvos at a cost to the zoo of more than $600 a month each, spawned a public controversy that has yet to abate.

Mr. Dennler’s subsequent comments that Volvos were safer and more fuel efficient than Toledo-built Jeeps, resulted in hundreds of additional letters and e-mails of protest to zoo and county officials.

Former Toledo Zoo veterinarian Dr. Tim Reichard, shown operating on an animal in 2000, has reached a settlement with the Zoo’s board of directors over his firing earlier this year. Former Toledo Zoo veterinarian Dr. Tim Reichard, shown operating on an animal in 2000, has reached a settlement with the Zoo’s board of directors over his firing earlier this year.
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As a result, Lucas County commissioners appointed a citizens task force to investigate a wide range of issues at the zoo, including management and animal-care.

The legal agreement signed by Dr. Reichard and zoo officials yesterday stated that Dr. Reichard would be “reinstated” to his position as Director of Animal Health and Nutrition of the Zoo starting today, though the agreement stipulated Dr. Reichard would serve the zoo only as a “consultant” who would be used on an “as-needed basis.”

The settlement further stated that Dr. Reichard would be prevented from stepping on zoo grounds while on the job.

The settlement does not define how often Dr. Reichard would be consulted, or what, exactly, he would be consulted about. One portion of the agreement prevents Dr. Reichard from discussing “his opinions as to the welfare of the animals at the Zoo” to any zoo employees or professional colleagues, though he may speak with the board.

And even as a private citizen, Dr. Reichard will be prevented by the agreement from entering the zoo for any reason for six months.

Zoo board member Richard Flasck said yesterday that the agreement with Dr. Reichard was made “to repair a wrong.”

“I think it was in everyone’s best interests to get out from under this,” he added. “The very fact that we’ve reinstated him tells you there’s some things we wish we would have done differently.”

He said he still had confidence in zoo executive director William Dennler.

Under the agreement Dr. Reichard’s consulting position will last 18 months and pay $90,000, in addition to health and retirement benefits. In addition, Dr. Reichard would get $36,726 in back pay, benefits, and attorney’s fees dating back to the date of his firing on February 28, for a total cost to the zoo of $126,726, not including future benefits.

The Zoo would also expunge Dr. Reichard’s record of all disciplines and reviews which he received in 2004.

He would also be prevented from filing claims of wrongful discharge or breach of contract against the zoo.

Calls to Dr. Reichard’s home were answered by his wife and referred to his attorney, Thomas Mackin of Perrysburg.

Mr. Mackin said both he and his client were satisfied with the agreement.

“We’re satisfied that the board did their own investigation and listened to Dr. Reichard, and we appreciate all the hard work and effort in investigating people with regard to Dr. Reichard’s employment,” he said.

While the agreement does not explicitly say that Dr. Reichard will resign from the position of Director of Animal Health and Nutrition - the official title of the head veterinarian - zoo board president Stephen Staelin said the intent was that he would be used only as a consultant, not as head veterinarian.

“The intent of the agreement is to reinstate Dr. Reichard as an employee of the zoo as a consultant... and we will also be looking for a replacement for the position of director of health and nutrition,” Mr. Staelin said.

“That’s a fair reflection,” Mr. Mackin agreed in a phone interview.

In a joint written statement, Dr. Reichard and the zoo said the settlement was an effort to “heal” the zoo.

“Dr. Reichard and The Zoo hope that this step can be a catalyst for healing within the Zoo and be part of the efforts being taken to improve The Zoo for the animals, the visitors, the employees and volunteers, and the whole community” the statement, which was released yesterday, read.

Mr. Staelin declined to comment beyond the statement, saying “it speaks for itself.” The settlement also prevents the zoo’s board and management from discussing “the conditions of Dr. Reichard’s termination or reinstatement.” He refused to comment on whether Mr. Dennler should continue to head the zoo.

Lucas county commissioner Peter Gerken, who helped set up a citizens task force to review zoo operations, said the settlement was a step in the right direction - but should not come at the expense of taxpayers.

“I think it’s probably the best interest of the zoo as an institution to move on for this,” he said. “Dr. Tim seemed to be a symbol of some of the issues that are in front of the zoo right now.”

Still, he said, when it comes to the $126,726 which will be incurred by the zoo for the controversy over the next 18 months, Mr. Gerken said the money should come from a fund strictly separated from any taxpayer dollars.

“Our taxpayer money is for operations and capital and let’s keep it there. They do have other funds available for these decisions,” he said.

Last year, zoo received around $11 million in Lucas County taxpayer money from a pair of levies, one of which will be up for a vote this coming November.

Some zoo employees close to the controversy say they were shocked by the decision.

“I’m sad that he’s not coming back,” said zoo veterinarian technician Dianna Lydick. “I don’t know what this means as far as the vet department in general. I think this is good as far as Dr. Tim is concerned... I do know Dr. Tim wanted what’s best for the zoo. He didn’t want the zoo to be seen in a bad light.”

Mammal keeper Dave Ross, who is scheduled to testify before the county task force, said he was “shocked I guess more than anything. I wish I knew what happened... If this is the end, I’m very surprised. I expected something different.”

Ms. Lydick said the controversy around Dr. Reichard was sad, but “at the same time, I think it needed to happen because there’s a lot of poor management styles at the zoo. Those have been swept under the carpet for a long time.”

“I wonder what will happen with the task force?” Mr. Ross added.

Steve Serchuk, chairman of the county task force’s animal care committee, said he also had concerns.

“I hope it won’t impede our work. Hopefully, [Dr. Reichard’s] documented in writing what we need,” he said.

“I just wish this would have happened after our task force had completed its work.”

County Commissioner Pete Gerken said “The [zoo] board has walled us off from talking with Dr. Reichard,” Mr. Gerken said. “Obviously that’s a loss.

Blade staff writer Jenni Laidman contributed to this report.

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



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