Ousted aviary director in Pittsburgh shocked by dismissal

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, 9:46 p.m.

For three years, the balance sheet at the once chronically indebted National Aviary improved — thanks in part to a jazzy expansion of the North Side bird zoo that helped draw more visitors.

So Pat Mangus, the aviary's director, said he was shocked when the board of directors ousted him Thursday.

“It was disappointing. They made a decision. That's the way it goes. What I accomplished there was quite a bit. There were many years of red ink at the aviary before I ran it,” Mangus said Friday.

The day before, board president Anthony T. Bridge went to Mangus' office and told him of the board's vote to fire him. Mangus said Bridge gave no cause for the firing. Bridge did not return phone calls on Friday.

Mangus' dismissal surprised David L. Donahoe, executive director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

“I really did not see this coming at all,” Donahoe said.

From 1995 to 2011, RAD gave the aviary $17.8 million in grants. In most years, RAD grants to the aviary account for about one-quarter of its annual budget. The budget is about $3.9 million this year.

RAD officials attend aviary board meetings and Donahoe said there was no indication of problems between the board and the director.

The city of Pittsburgh owned the aviary — and the Pittsburgh Zoo and the Phipps Conservatory — until 1992 when each became a private entity in a city budget-cutting move.

“Of those three assets, the aviary was in the worst condition. They have really improved once they opened the expansion. It really increased their earned income,” Donahoe said.

In a grant proposal filed in August, the aviary asked RAD for $1.53 million for 2013.

RAD provides money to regional cultural, civic and sports entities with revenue raised from a 1 percent supplemental sales tax levied in Allegheny County.

The aviary has balanced three consecutive budgets. In 2009, about one-third of its earned revenue came from admission and sales. With attendance up, now about 50 percent does.

The aviary began a $17.5 million expansion three years ago that includes construction of the Helen M. Schmidt FliteZone Theater, a rooftop sky deck for birds of prey, a café, classrooms, a penguin exhibit, a new entrance and lobby space.

“It is a destination now. I think that's what we did,” Mangus said.

Mangus said he took an entrepreneurial approach to running the aviary that sometimes clashed with the board.

“My focus was on results. Some people were resistant to changes we had to make. I am proud of what I did there,” he said.

Nearly all of Mangus' career has been in public relations and consulting. He was a consultant to the aviary before becoming chief operating officer in 2007.

The board's actions surprised some who knew Mangus for decades.

“Pat is a very, very good manager, very passionate and forward thinking. I thought things were improving at the aviary, so I'm really surprised,” said Frank Catanzano, who met Mangus at the Burston Marsteller public relations firm in 1976 and ran a firm with him for 14 years.

Linda Dickerson, who preceded Mangus as aviary director, also had dust-ups with the board before she agreed to resign in 2009.

“It's probably not a good situation when an executive director gets fired by a board. It is rare for this to happen,” she said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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