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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2005

Toledo Zoo: Director's search narrowed down to 5 candidates

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The hunt for the Toledo Zoo's new executive director has been whittled down to five candidates - and officials involved in the search predict an offer will be made to one by the end of next month.

Larry Peterson, co-chairman of the zoo's search committee, refused to release the names of the candidates, saying that some had not informed their current employers of the interviews, and that no documents, including resumes, had been given to the search committee.

"This has all been done with word of mouth, every comment and issue," Mr. Peterson said. "We were very careful to do this in a way [the candidates] were comfortable with until the final selection process. We don't want them to burn any bridges [yet]."

He said none of the candidates is local, and all the candidates were in top management positions at either zoos, aquariums, or nonprofit organizations. At least one candidate is a top executive at a zoo.

Two of the candidates were interviewed yesterday morning.

Mr. Peterson said all 18 members of the search committee, which is composed of zoo board members and staff and some members of the Toledo community, were present for the closed executive session.

He said the other three candidates will be interviewed Saturday in another closed session.

Mr. Peterson said he hopes to narrow the five candidates down to a lesser number and publicly present the smaller list to the zoo's full board of directors on Dec. 19.

Joel Epstein, of the executive search firm Waverly Partners' Toledo branch, which was hired to help with the search, said after Dec. 19 he will begin reference and background checks, and the candidates will again come to Toledo to meet with a wide range of zoo board and staff members as well as community members.

"By the end of January, I presume there will be an offer made to someone," Mr. Epstein said.

The zoo's top position has been vacant since its previous executive director, William Dennler, retired in early May amid a controversy triggered in February when he fired the zoo's popular chief veterinarian, Dr. Tim Reichard. The zoo's second-in-command, Chief Operating Officer Robert Harden, also resigned that month.

Mr. Dennler had served as the zoo's executive director for 24 years.

Since then, the institution has been run by a five-person leadership team of staff and zoo board members headed by Fred Bollin, an unpaid business consultant.

In July, the zoo paid $97,500 for a second senior manager to oversee several departments, including human resources, finance, marketing, and interpretive services, for a period of one year.

But Jeannie Hylant, co-chairman of the search committee, said zoo staff members are starting to get anxious.

"Right now, they're being run by a group of volunteers. They want some stability," she said. "They're not outwardly talking about it, but you can sense it - that thirst is growing in them for some leadership."

Mr. Peterson agreed.

"There are a lot of people who are wanting us to get this done yesterday," he said.

The search officially began in early August, and Mr. Epstein said between applicants and those his firm sought out on their own, they originally had between 100 and 150 candidates.

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



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