Fired arena em­ployee speaks out

Har­bour Grace mayor de­nies he played any role in Box­ing Day event

The Compass - - NEWS - BYMELISSA JENK­INS

A long­time em­ployee at the sta­dium in Har­bour Grace who was re­cently fired by the town for his role in a con­tro­ver­sial Box­ing Day event at the fa­cil­ity is point­ing a fin­ger of blame at Mayor Terry Barnes.

Barnes, mean­while, is deny­ing any in­volve­ment in what he re­ferred to as an unau­tho­rized day-long event at the arena that in­volved some three dozen peo­ple play­ing shinny hockey.

The con­tro­versy is just one el­e­ment in a se­ries of events that have cast a dark cloud of dis­con­tent over the Con­cep­tion Bay North town in re­cent days, in­clud­ing calls for Barnes’ res­ig­na­tion by fel­low coun­cil­lors.

The hol­i­day party at­tracted some high pro­file hockey per­son­al­i­ties from the re­gion, and sev­eral of the par­tic­i­pants are closely re­lated to mem­bers of the Har­bour Grace town coun­cil. Sources say that in ad­di­tion to hockey, there was food, beer and the smok­ing of cig­a­rettes in­side the build­ing.

It ended with the fir­ing of Garfield (Garf) Ma­haney, re­ports of prop­erty dam­age at the rink, in­volve­ment by the RCMP, and ac­cu­sa­tions and fin­ger-point­ing at nearly ev­ery level. Those us­ing the rink also is­sued an apol­ogy to town of­fi­cials, and paid for the ice rental and dam­ages, with some es­ti­mat­ing the to­tal bill at roughly $1,500.

Sources say the in­ci­dent was also a fac­tor in the sud­den res­ig­na­tion of two newly hired mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees: a fa­cil­i­ties man­ager and a chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer. Nei­ther have com­mented pub­licly on the rea­sons for their de­par­ture.

The mat­ter has dom­i­nated so­cial me­dia sites in the re­gion, at­tracted pro­vin­cial me­dia head­lines, and has fur­ther driven a wedge be­tween an in­creas­ingly di­vided town coun­cil, which was freshly elected in Septem­ber.

A Christ­mas tra­di­tion

The party, mean­while, is a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion in the town, dat­ing back some two decades, and sources say the town has rarely charged for the event.

One of the users, who spoke with The Com­pass on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the group was con­tacted by an arena of­fi­cial in early De­cem­ber to in­form them that they now had to pay for the use of the arena, and that a for­mal book­ing was re­quired.

The user said it was con­firmed dur­ing this con­ver­sa­tion that the group was agree­able to the new terms, and that they wished to use the arena.

“We thought this year we were do­ing it by the wishes of man­age­ment, the way they wanted it done,” he said. “It was clear soon af­ter it was cer­tainly not the case.”

The Com­pass at­tempted to con­firm this by con­tact­ing the for­mer arena man­ager, but she de­clined com­ment.

Sources have said the arena was left in a mess, with pizza boxes and cig­a­rette butts not put in the trash and beer bot­tles not placed back in their boxes.

The user de­nies leav­ing the sta­dium like that.

“We cer­tainly don’t make any more of a mess that a nor­mal party would have,” he said. “Beer bot­tles were put back in the cases. The pizza boxes, we did our best to dis­pose of them prop­erly.”

A key for ac­cess

When con­tacted last week, Mayor Barnes told The Com­pass there was no for­mal book­ing for the Dec. 26 event, and said the group bla­tantly went ahead with the gath­er­ing.

Ma­haney agreed to an in­ter­view on Fri­day, Feb. 7, and ad­mit­ted re­spon­si­bil­ity for open­ing the door. How­ever, he adamantly de­nies be­ing at fault.

He said he was con­tacted by a mem­ber of the Box­ing Day group, and asked to open the arena. Ini­tially, Ma­haney re­fused, say­ing he was not au­tho­rized, and that he no longer had a key.

A short time later, Ma­haney was told by the users that they had re­ceived au­tho­riza­tion from Mayor Barnes to use the sta­dium.

With that, Ma­haney re­trieved his son’s keys to the rink, ac­com­pa­nied mem­bers of the user group to the sta­dium, and opened the doors. Ma­haney’s son also works at the arena.

What’s more, Ma­haney con­tends he saw Barnes at the arena dur­ing the day, and sev­eral other sources have also stated Barnes was at the rink.

Ma­haney’s ver­sion of events, if true, is di­rectly counter to Barnes’ ver­sion.

Barnes said Feb. 5 he took no part the event, and said the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the unau­tho­rized event rests di­rectly on the shoul­ders of the em­ployee.

“Garf was an em­ployee who was off on leave, who wasn’t sup­posed to be in the sta­dium, or give ac­cess to the sta­dium,” Barnes ex­plained

When asked if he vis­ited the arena that day, Barnes replied: “I was not there.”

Ma­haney was relieved of his em­ploy­ment af­ter the in­ci­dent.

Ma­haney con­tends he was un­fairly ter­mi­nated be­cause he re­ceived the go-ahead — though not di­rectly — from Mayor Terry Barnes to let the group in.

The Com­pass left sev­eral mes­sages Fri­day, Feb. 7 for the per­son who al­legedly in­formed Ma­haney

Break­ing and en­ter­ing is hard to charge any­one with when a town em­ployee lets them in. — Har­bour Grace Mayor Terry Barnes

that Barnes had sanc­tioned the use of the sta­dium. How­ever, those calls were not re­turned.

As for Barnes, he stated: “(Garf) went and got keys and tried to blame me, say­ing I said it was OK. I did not say he could do it, but in this sit­u­a­tion, it’s his word against mine.”

Sources say the union con­tract states an em­ployee must first re­ceive a ver­bal warn­ing, then a writ­ten rep­ri­mand be­fore they can be ter­mi­nated. It is un­known if the em­ployee had been dis­ci­plined pre­vi­ously.

Ma­haney con­firmed he is ap­peal­ing his ter­mi­na­tion.

In­ter­nal mat­ter

The RCMP was called when it was re­ported the group had gained unau­tho­rized ac­cess to the sta­dium. There was also some dam­age done to the door to the dress­ing room of the Eastlink CeeBee Stars se­nior hockey team.

An RCMP of­fi­cer con­firmed Fri­day that a com­plaint was made about unau­tho­rized ac­cess and dam­age, but the mat­ter has been dropped.

“Things were to be dealt with in­ter­nally,” an RCMP spokesman stated.

Barnes con­firmed the po­lice were called, but said charges would have been hard to prove.

“Break­ing and en­ter­ing is hard to charge any­one with when a town em­ployee lets them in,” Barnes said.

Com­pass file photo

The S.W. Moores Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Har­bour Grace has been the cen­tre of a Box­ing Day con­tro­ver­sial event that led to the ter­mi­na­tion of a long­time em­ployee.

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