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Published: 6/4/2005

Task force weighs recommendations for zoo

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With about a month to go before its duty is officially done, the Lucas County task force charged with examining Toledo Zoo operations is getting ready to make suggestions to zoo officials based on its findings.

We re starting to think about recommendations, said Steve Serchuk, chairman of the task force s animal care committee, echoing the opinions of many present.

Most did not speak openly on what they would recommend, but task force member Linnie Willis noted that an item of immediate, high-level concern was the condition of zoo vehicles.

That s a topic she said several employees complained about in interviews and should be looked into before the task force s self-imposed deadline for its review with recommendations for zoo operations.

The task force, which was created by the Lucas County commissioners after the controversial firing of ex-zoo chief veterinarian Dr. Tim Reichard, gave itself a 100-day deadline on March 24 to examine all aspects of zoo operations, including animal care, finances, board and management structure, and personnel issues.

The knowledge and passion of zoo employees was praised by task force members, though management and communication issues at the zoo came under some criticism as well.

Managers [at the zoo] don t know how to manage. If the managers knew how to manage, many of these problems could have been avoided, said task force member Larry Conway. Some of these people are absolutely lacking in people skills.

We have identified that as an area to address, added Ms. Willis, who chairs the task force s personnel committee.

Dr. Reichard spoke to the task force once, but was barred from speaking again after signing a settlement with the zoo s board of directors offering him about $127,000 to serve as a consultant who could never set foot on zoo property.

As part of that settlement, members of the zoo s management, including curators, are barred from speaking about the circumstances surrounding Dr. Reichard s firing.

But after weeks of reviewing hundreds of documents, and hearing from dozens of employees behind closed doors and a few in open forum, most of the task force members said they re confident they ve got most of the information they need.

Mr. Serchuk, whose committee covers animal care, said Dr. Reichard s situation was well covered by documents and interviews with other employees.

That s put to bed, he said.

Task force co-chair Marty Skeldon asked every committee to construct a rough draft of its report in two weeks time, and a final draft in four weeks.

But Ms. Willis said her committee might have a hard time meeting the deadline, as it awaits the results from a zoo employee survey taken last month that included more than 800 written comments.

Zoo officials said last week that final results from the survey may take as long as a month to compile.

Those are the critical pieces that my committee s been waiting on, Ms. Willis said. I would hate [to make] a final report without the opportunity to look at those comments.

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



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