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Norwich ice rink turmoil continues

By Claire Bessette

Published April 04. 2013 4:00AM
Authority member faces allegations of harassment

Norwich — Staffing turmoil continues at the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink, with complaints lodged by employees about management uncertainty, authority leadership and harassment allegations against an authority member.

Two employees have complained that authority member Stephanie Davis sexually harassed them — allegations Davis said she never was informed about and strongly denies.

Matthew M. Koehler, box office and maintenance worker, submitted his resignation effective March 27, citing an unspecified "unaddressed harassment complaint" along with management changes and recent duties asked of him by Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers.

Rink Hockey Director John Healy did not resign, but he also complained to Desaulniers about alleged harassment by Davis and recently met with Norwich Human Resources Director Brigid Marks and Desaulniers to discuss the issue.

"I'm just shocked at these allegations," Davis said Tuesday. "They are not true, and it hurts that people would make false allegations against someone."

Desaulniers said in both cases, the allegations involved complaints that Davis touched them on the shoulder, and they felt uncomfortable at the contact.

He said Healy had asked that Davis not serve on a hockey subcommittee and was uncomfortable when Davis attended a subcommittee meeting. Davis said Tuesday she was never told about Healy's request and did not sit near him during that meeting.

Healy confirmed Wednesday that he requested the meeting with the human resources director after several months had passed since he first raised the issue. He declined to comment further.

Desaulniers said he and authority member Joann Beguhl met with Davis Tuesday night to discuss the issues.

All eight authority members' terms expired on April 1, although the city charter allows them to serve until the City Council makes new appointments or reappointments. Davis said she had wanted to seek reappointment but now is unsure in light of the allegations.

"We'll sit down and talk to Stephanie," Desaulniers, also City Council president pro tempore, said. "I want to address this before she seeks reappointment."

Authority member Patrice Jaskiewicz resigned from the authority Wednesday night.

Employees also have complained about Desaulniers' role as authority leader and authority actions.

Former rink Manager Mia Sanca submitted her resignation March 14 amid criticism for her actions on Feb. 13, when the rink's cooling system failed and caused an ammonia leak. On March 21, Sanca withdrew her resignation and tried to report to work the following morning.

Desaulniers instructed Koehler to ask Sanca to leave and to call police if she refused.

"The culture of the rink has changed and recent duties asked of me by the authority chair as well as the unaddressed harassment complaints contributed to my decision," Koehler wrote. "In summary, I feel the rink is now a hostile work environment."

Meanwhile, this week, Ashley Smith resigned as learn-to-skate director but said in her resignation letter she will continue as a rink employee and learn-to-skate coach. Smith said her job description is unclear and said the authority contradicted her role when a private learn-to-skate entity was allowed to advertise in prominent places inside the rink.

She said Wednesday she did not want to work as director under current conditions.

"I do not have the necessary direction, tools or support from the Rink Authority," she wrote in her letter, "and lack of management to execute what I believe are reasonable responsibilities of the Learn to Skate director in order to run a profitable program."

The resignations and complaints came forward as the authority is seeking a new rink manager or rink management firm. The position has been advertised on the city and ice rink websites.

Desaulniers said Smith's position as learn-to-skate director will have to be filled, but the box office/maintenance position could be reconfigured.

c.bessette@theday.com

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