Oct 6, 2021 - Business
Amid scandal, Columbus Zoo picks new CEO
Tom Schmid, the new CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, stands in front of an aquarium
Tom Schmid, the new CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Texas State Aquarium

Texas State Aquarium's longtime leader, Tom Schmid, will become the next president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Why it matters: Schmid starts Dec. 6 and will be responsible for restoring public trust in the zoo following recent scandals.

  • The zoo could soon lose accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a distinction it has had since 1980, according to a WCMH story.
  • Tom Stalf, Schmid's predecessor, resigned in March amid allegations that he used zoo assets personally, including credit cards, vehicles, homes and tickets to events.

Flashback: Schmid, 58, has led Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Texas, since 1999. Before that, he led Nauticus, a maritime science center in Norfolk, Virginia, and started his career at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

  • Under Schmid's leadership, the aquarium doubled in size with a $58 million, 71,000-square-foot expansion in 2017, and a new, massive wildlife rescue center is now under construction.

What's next: Schmid's first priority will be ensuring the staff "once again has confidence in the leadership of the zoo," he tells Axios.

  • "A lot of my focus will be regaining trust in the community, both in central Ohio and the zoo community at large," he said.
  • Eventually, the park's North America region will likely be targeted for upgrades because of outdated habitats.
  • Until December, esteemed Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jerry Borin, who came out of retirement following Stalf's resignation, will continue to lead the zoo.

The big picture: Schmid said he was hooked by the scale of operations — the 622-acre zoo itself, plus a water park, golf course and a nearly 10,000-acre conservation park, The Wilds, east of Columbus.

What they're saying: Keith Shumate, chair of the zoo's board of directors, told board members Schmid is the right person to "help move the zoo forward."

  • Schmid's base salary will be $425,000, Shumate confirmed.

Meanwhile, a state investigation into former zoo leadership, conducted by the Ohio Attorney General's Charitable Law Section, is ongoing, as well as a state audit.

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