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Published: Wednesday, 7/20/2005

Consultant hired to oversee zoo administration


While the search continues for an executive director, Toledo Zoo officials have hired a senior manager to oversee several administrative departments at a cost of nearly $100,000 over the next year.

Management consultant Michael Burns, 64, of Holland has been hired to oversee the zoo's human resources, finance, marketing, and interpretive services departments.

As director of administration, his first duty will be to evaluate those departments and make recommendations to the zoo's senior leadership team.

"There's a lot of great people with great talent there. It's a matter of how it's been organized," Mr. Burns said.

Breakdowns in communication and teamwork have been cited as factors leading to the recent turmoil at the zoo sparked by the February firing of Dr. Tim Reichard, head veterinarian, and culminating in the retirement of William Dennler, the executive director, in early May, and the concurrent resignation of Bob Harden, the zoo's second-in-command.

Since the two stepped down, a five-person leadership team - headed by Fred Bollin, an unpaid business consultant solely responsible for the zoo's administrative support - has been running the zoo.

The new position will take a large chunk of work off Mr. Bollin's plate. Mr. Burns will be paid a contractual consultant fee of $3,900 every two weeks, with no benefits, for 50 weeks, amounting to $97,500 for the length of his contract - an expense Mr. Bollin called "reasonable for consulting fees."

Mr. Burns' fee will be paid out of a zoo fund for "project expenses," a subset of the zoo's general operating fund.

Mr. Bollin said what set Mr. Burns apart from other candidates was his background managing each of the areas he will oversee as well as his experience managing departments in transitional periods.

"There is a call for change [at the zoo]," Mr. Bollin said.

Mr. Burns worked 17 years at National Bank of Detroit, ending his employment there as vice president in the corporate trust department, then spent 12 years at the Detroit office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, an international financial services firm.

He worked seven years at the Toledo office of Findley Davies, a human resources consulting firm, from which he was planning to retire this month.

In all three organizations, Mr. Burns was involved in reorganizing and updating large corporate departments.

Mr. Burns received his bachelor's in finance from Ohio State University in 1965, and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law, now Michigan State University, in 1982.

A report released early this month by a county task force charged with evaluating the zoo suggested simplifying the zoo's human resources functions and strengthening the zoo's financial reporting and oversight.

Mr. Burns said he will take the task force's recommendations to heart.

"I think the people who did the report did a great job. In a way, it's a checklist of sorts," he said.

But he said it was too early for him to discuss specific recommendations.

Mr. Burns said he responded to an ad for the job because he wanted a chance to solve what he saw as a complex problem.

"It was absolutely incredible to me that [the zoo] was having the difficulties that they appeared to have," Mr. Burns said. "I saw it as an opportunity to help."

The renewal of Mr. Burns' one-year contract will be decided by the zoo's new executive director. The zoo board is expected to give an update on its search for a new executive director next month. It has in the past said the process could take from six months to a year.

In other zoo business, a committee set up by the zoo's board of directors to address human resources issues met for the first time yesterday.

Tony Shelbourn, chairman of the board's human resources committee, headed discussions, which centered on bringing in new committee members, with particular emphasis on minority members.

Contact Tad Vezner at:


or 419-724-6050.

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