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La Liga de Las Americas

Toledo Zoo Adds Two Minority Board Members

La Prensa Staff Writer

The Toledo Zoo, during its annual meeting on June 19, voted to add three new members to its board of directors. Two of the three are prominent members of Toledo’s minority community: Toledo City Councilman Michael Ashford and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s (FLOC) Founder/President Baldemar Velásquez.

Corazón de México performing at the Toledo Zoo, Cinco de Mayo 2006

The Zoo, which has been awash in controversy over the past few years, at least in part because of the perception that the organization has lacked a commitment to diversity in its hiring practices, has made a studied attempt of late to correct its hiring deficiencies.

A task force appointed by the Lucas County Commissioners last year issued a report on July 8, 2005 concluding that the Zoo had had “an embarrassing lack of racial diversity.”

Subsequently the Zoo itself assembled an external diversity committee and hired a local diversity consultant. While the numbers of minority employees are still low, the Zoo has increased its full-time minority employees from two to four (of a work force of about 150) over the last year and has increased its part-time and seasonal minority staff from 12 to 14 percent.

“I think the board, as has the entire Zoo, has been turning our attention to diversity,” said Dr. Anne Baker, executive director, who started in her position this past March. “We want to be more reflective of the entire community for two reasons. First it’s the right thing to do and second, it’s good business. We want to be more hospitable to all of the citizens of Lucas County.”

When asked if the move to improve the Zoo’s image, especially among minority communities, was a result of the mixed results of the last levy campaign – which saw a yes vote on the operating levy and a no on the capital improvement levy – Dr. Baker demurred.

“I don’t know that ‘no’ would be a perfectly honest answer, but it’s not the levy,” she replied. “We wouldn’t have asked [Ashford and Velásquez] just because of that. The African-American and Hispanic communities supported us in those levies. When I say it’s good business … for example, the Hispanic community is the fastest growing. Both groups are potential visitors and we want them to come here and if we want them to come here, we have to be welcoming.”

Ashford spoke of his own reasons for agreeing to become part of the Zoo organization.

“The Zoo is a great institution and given the fact that they recognize that they have had problems and that the oversight committee recommended that they diversify the board, it makes sense for me to come aboard,” he said.

How difficult will it be to improve the Zoo’s minority hiring practices in the skilled areas, Ashford was asked?

“I don’t think it’s going to be difficult here in 2006. I’m going to look at the overall plan and help them to make sure the plan is aggressive enough.”

Velásquez was unavailable for comment with FLOC negotiations in North Carolina.





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