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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

Ex-zoo vet's sister named to panel

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A newly formed group demanding more details of efforts to fix problems at the Toledo Zoo has appointed the sister of the zoo's former veterinarian as one of its spokesmen.

Debra Reichard Klein, the sister of Dr. Tim Reichard, who was fired in February as the zoo's chief veterinarian, is a spokesman of Citizens for a Responsible Zoo, a group of about 10 local citizens and zoo volunteers formed in December.

Dr. Reichard's firing triggered a controversy that, in turn, sparked the creation of a Lucas County task force to examine zoo operations.

The task force issued a report in July with 123 recommendations for change.

In October, zoo officials told the county they were enacting 115 of those recommendations. Most were still in the works.

"I know the zoo wants to show there's a new page. We want a new page. We want to make sure the new page is real and not just rhetoric," Ms. Reichard Klein said.

She said her group wants more details on how the recommendations are being addressed.

Zoo officials are in the process of placing two countywide tax issues on the May 2 ballot - a five-year, 0.85-mill operating levy and a 10-year, 1-mill capital levy.

Stephen Staelin, the zoo board's president who claimed no knowledge of the group, said in a written statement: "The Toledo Zoo is committed to operating in an open and transparent manner. ... We have pledged to make regular progress reports to the [county] commissioners who are the responsible authority for county funding."

Dr. David Thorton, another spokesman of the group who runs a private veterinary practice in Point Place, said most of the clients he has talked to at his practice were still unsure whether progress was occurring.

He said his group's primary purpose was to "make sure all the facts are out and that the public has the chance to make the right decision [on the zoo's levies]," facts the group would then post on its Web site, www.responsiblezoo.org.

But Dr. Thornton added that he had not attended any zoo board meetings, and he was not aware that they were open to the public.

Ms. Reichard Klein said she believed she was asked to represent the group because she went to task force meetings, not because of her name.

"I think it would be honest to say that the Reichard name has been very interested and very involved in healthy animal care at the zoo. That certainly hasn't changed. To keep quiet because it would look funny because of who I am? I can't help it. I do have an interest," Ms. Reichard Klein said.

She added that her brother was "supportive," but had not encouraged her.

In October, county commissioners and task force representatives said they were pleased with the zoo's progress concerning the task force's recommendations.

"I think [zoo officials] showed an eagerness to share information. I did feel they were definitely trying," said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the county commissioners.

Marty Skeldon, a task force co-chairman who in October spoke positively of the zoo's progress, expressed skepticism yesterday the task force's recommendations would be carried out.

"There are still issues at the zoo - employee relation issues that haven't been addressed - in fact, have probably been inflamed because of the hiring of Dr. [Wynona] Shellabarger as chief vet," he said.

Dr. Shellabarger, who served under Dr. Reichard, was promoted in December - a promotion that "greatly upset" several task force members, Mr. Skeldon said.

Additionally, he said the zoo has yet to act on two other recommendations - bringing a general curator from outside the zoo and splitting the zoo's mammal department, thus eliminating the position of curator of mammals.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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