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Before the watchful gaze of Lucas County commissioners, the special citizens' task force created to look into recent controversies at the Toledo Zoo met yesterday with the zoo's most controversial ex-employee.
Dr. Tim Reichard, who was fired from his post as the zoo's senior veterinarian, spoke yesterday both publicly and behind closed doors with the task force, which was created by the county commissioners after a strong public outcry relating to Dr. Reichard's dismissal.
Before the meeting, task force co-chairman Robert Reinbolt said he "wasn't hoping for anything specific" to Dr. Reichard's situation -- at least today.
"Myself, I just want a better understanding of the role of Dr. Reichard's position in the zoo's organization and how it impacts animal care," he said.
"We wanted to give him an opportunity to give a presentation to this group, just like [Zoo Ex-ecutive Director William] Dennler did last week," said Marty Skeldon, the task force's second co-chairman.
The Feb. 28 termination of Dr. Reichard, who served the zoo for 22 years, sparked a storm of controversy at the zoo and led to questions about several procedures at the 104-year-old institution.
That controversy led county commissioners to form the 14-member task force to look into animal care, finances, operations, and leadership at the zoo.
Dr. Reichard said immediately after his firing that he believed he was targeted for speaking frankly with federal inspectors about animal deaths and animal-care issues at the zoo. The zoo administration has said his dismissal stemmed from problems with his management style.
Dr. Reichard, who appeared yesterday with his wife, Sue, and attorney Thomas Mackin, gave a 20-minute public statement on his own personal "vision" and management style, one in which those responsible for animal care "receive a gamut of input from all parties" and "together make a decision about animal care."
"Different players in an institution, different individuals" can bring in management styles that conflict with each other, create misunderstandings, and "result in problems," and "that's some of the problems that are happening recently at the Toledo Zoo," he added. Dr. Reichard later stressed in a phone interview that it had not been his intention to speak specifically about the zoo or to cast blame.
"I honestly only wanted to speak on who I am and what my vision is," he said. "I'm not saying my management style is the most appropriate one or speak of any specific problems at the zoo."
After Dr. Reichard's public statement, the task force went into a closed executive session "to consider the investigation of charges and complaints against Dr. Reichard, Director Dennler, and/or the administrative staff at the zoo."
Coming out of the hour-and-a-half session, neither task force members nor Dr. Reichard would provide details on what was said.
"He was very forthcoming, and very helpful," Mr. Reinbolt said, saying that Dr. Reichard would be invited back, specifically before the task force's animal care subcommittee.
Dr. Reichard said only that he had "enjoyed the open, interactive dialogue" that he called "a good exchange of information."
Also present at the preliminary session -- but not present for the closed executive session -- were Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County commissioners; Commissioner Pete Gerken, and County Administrator Michael Beazley.
Only Mr. Beazley remained to talk with task force members as they left the executive session.
"We're here to show support for the task force and to make sure they recognize that the commissioners are taking this very seriously," Ms. Wozniak said. "We want to keep a close eye on the process but also want to let them know we're accessible for support."
Last week, task force members said that some of the task force's subcommittee meetings -- during which the most dramatic testimony would likely take place -- may be closed to the public.
Mr. Reinbolt said that he had been advised by the county prosecutor that such sessions were not required to be open.
In the following days, Ms. Wozniak had discussions with some task force members on the topic.
"There were some questions and the need for some clarity," Ms. Wozniak said. "These are private citizens that have never had to deal with the Sunshine Law."
All subcommittee hearings will now be open to the public, Mr. Beazley said -- though they could later go into closed executive sessions if they prove to meet required provisions under the Ohio Revised Code.
Specifically, sessions dealing with "personnel issues" would likely be closed, Mr. Reinbolt said.
Mr. Reinbolt also added that other board members will now have the option to make public statements if they so choose.
Last week, Mr. Reinbolt said that only the board's co-chairmen would make statements to the media.
"We're certainly not trying to stop them from talking," Mr. Reinbolt said. "We just wanted to prevent confusion."
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