Troubled Norwich ice rink looks to new leader

Norwich - For the first time since its inception, the Norwich Ice Rink Authority has a new leader.

In its first vote Thursday, the authority - with three of four newly appointed members present - voted unanimously to elect Council President Pro Tempore Francois "Pete" Desaulniers as chairman. Desaulniers was appointed to the authority in June to oversee a financial and operations turnaround.

Former authority secretary Cheryl Ritacco was elected vice chairman.

Local accountant Michael Goldblatt had served as chairman since the authority was created when residents approved a referendum bond to build the rink. Goldblatt thanked city officials, rink volunteers and fellow authority members over the years for their assistance and support.

"We all want the same thing," Goldblatt said. "We all want the rink to keep going. I feel we've turned the corner."

City officials wanted more hands-on oversight of the financially troubled rink in the hopes it could become self-sufficient. The rink has received direct city budget subsidies for the past two budget years totaling $81,000 and has an outstanding debt to the city of $261,000.

The authority on Thursday delayed action on a revised 2012-13 budget to give members a chance to review the document. Desaulniers said the new budget will be designed to have a 15 percent profit to start paying back the city debt and to build a reserve for necessary capital expenses. The authority will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to act on the budget.

Thursday, the authority formally accepted a letter from Alderman Charles Jaskiewicz criticizing recent authority actions and saying he has received two inquiries from private developers, including one that includes former Hartford Whaler Bob Crawford, interested in taking over the rink. The authority did not discuss the letter.

His wife, Patrice Jaskiewicz, was one of four new appointees to the authority Monday by the City Council. Others were Stephanie Davis, Michael Meakem and Joann Beguhl. Goldblatt and Ritacco were reappointed Monday. Charles Jaskiewicz abstained from voting on his wife's appointment.

The authority also received a response to Jaskiewicz's criticism from former rink manager Jim Sanca, husband of current rink manager Mia Sanca. Jim Sanca resigned in June, and the authority appointed Mia Sanca, then program director, as the new manager on a six-month trial basis.

Jim Sanca said Jaskiewicz exaggerated criticism of Mia Sanca, saying it came from just "a handful of disgruntled figure skating parents" and one skating coach unhappy with new changes at the rink.

Sanca said that Charles and Patrice Jaskiewicz are good friends with the current concession stand operator, Richard Bazinet, and that Patrice Jaskiewicz worked for Bazinet. The authority recently advertised for requests for proposals for a new concessions vendor with the expiration of Bazinet's contract.

Sanca said he resigned suddenly in June because he felt he was being forced into negotiations not in the best interest of the rink.

Most of Thursday's meeting was devoted to hearing presentations from hockey, figure skating and learn-to-skate directors on current and new programs being launched, including lacrosse on ice, a new sport that is growing in popularity.

The rink's summer camp program was more successful than ever, with 32 participants by the third and final week, more than all previous years combined since the program started in 2008, summer camp program director Haley Jensen told the authority.

c.bessette@theday.com

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