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Chief of Zoo Group Quits in Wake of Power Struggle : Government: Bruce Nasby, president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., says the organization needs a fresh start. Its authority recently was diluted.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The decades-old power struggle over who should control the Los Angeles Zoo has claimed what may be its final victim: the president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn.

Bruce A. Nasby announced his resignation Friday, just 10 days after city officials diluted the power of Nasby’s nonprofit group over the 25-year-old animal park.

Nasby, of Calabasas, indicated his resignation was prompted by the Dec. 3 move by the City Council to give a newly hired zoo director clear authority to manage the zoo and settle disputes between zoo staff and association members.

Although primarily a fund-raising and support group, the association in the past has played an active role in zoo operations--often to the dismay of zoo workers.

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When former Zoo Director Warren D. Thomas resigned under fire a year ago, he lashed out at the association, claiming it “never understood (its) role as a support group.” Thomas charged that the organization had an “ultimate goal of finally taking over the zoo.”

This year, city officials complained that the association’s strength--and the fact that it paid Nasby more (about $117,000) than it planned to pay the new zoo director--made it difficult to recruit a replacement for Thomas.

Officials raised the director’s pay last month from $93,730 to $116,448 and hired Boston zoo administrator Mark Goldstein for the job. At the same time, they centralized control of the zoo in Goldstein’s hands.

Neither Goldstein nor Nasby could be reached for comment on Saturday. But Nasby indicated in a letter sent to association board members that he will stay on the job until a replacement is hired, although he hopes to leave by June 30.

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“Over the past year, dramatic changes have occurred in the management of the Los Angeles Zoo,” Nasby said. “With the association now in position to make a fresh start with a new zoo director, I feel it is the appropriate time for me to pursue other opportunities.”

Camron Cooper, governing board chairman of the zoo association, said Nasby’s decision to quit was his own.

“He has chosen to resign,” she said. “We certainly wish him every success in his future endeavors. He did many fine things for GLAZA and for the zoo.”

Cooper refused to speculate on whether the association will roll back the president’s salary to a level beneath the zoo director before Nasby’s replacement is hired.

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Other zoo association board members said they were not surprised at the resignation.

“I think the animosities are out now. All we’re doing is looking forward to the future,” said Polly Turpin, a Pasadena resident who has served as a trustee since 1976.

Trustee Sarah Berman, who has worked as a zoo volunteer for 25 years, said Nasby’s departure should permanently end rivalries that have developed over the years at the zoo.

“Usually you say if you’ve got an experienced person around to help the new man get started it’s a good thing. But this time I think it’s time to start fresh,” said Berman, of Bell Canyon.

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Still, she said, Nasby’s replacement will need to be a diplomat. The new association president should “sit down with the forgotten people--the zookeepers, the behind-the-scenes personnel--and say, ‘OK, let’s all get together. We are all here for one reason.’ We’ve let communications fall by the wayside.”

Other zoo volunteers, particularly those who sided with zookeepers earlier this year in a dispute with the zoo association over the funding of a breeding program for the rare Sumatran rhinoceros, were pleased by Nasby’s resignation.

“I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did,” docent Fred Fishman said Saturday.

Nasby, who headed the economic education group Junior Achievement of Southern California before taking over the zoo group 3 1/2 years ago, is credited for boosting paid membership in the association from about 80,000 to more than 135,000.

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