Former Norwich rink manager rebuffed when she tries to return to work

Norwich — Former ice rink manager Mia Sanca rescinded her resignation Thursday night but was asked to leave by order of the Ice Rink Authority chairman when she tried to report to work Friday morning.

Sanca and the authority chairman and vice chairwoman all signed a handwritten letter during a March 13 special meeting agreeing to the terms of Sanca's resignation: She would be paid through March 31 and would receive two weeks of vacation pay, and the authority would not contest her unemployment claim. Sanca's annual salary was $53,000, and she had no contract.

Sanca's actions on Feb. 13, when the rink's cooling system malfunctioned and caused an ammonia leak, were contributing factors in her resignation, authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said after the March 13 meeting. The authority's incident report said Sanca delayed calling the fire department and failed to evacuate the building after twice being ordered to do so.

Sanca's incident report contradicted that claim and included no reference to being ordered to evacuate the rink. She reported only that Desaulniers told her to call the fire department. Upon their arrival, firefighters ordered the evacuation.

Desaulniers declined to say whether the authority had asked Sanca to resign March 13. That meeting was never posted. The authority was planning to vote again to accept Sanca's resignation at Thursday's regular meeting.

But prior to the vote, Sanca's attorney, Ralph Bergman presented the authority with a letter saying that Sanca was withdrawing her resignation. Bergman said Friday her original letter of resignation was "penned under unusual and stressful circumstances, and she wishes to remain the rink manager."

The authority voted to accept the original resignation, Desaulniers said Friday, and referred Bergman's letter to city Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll.

Desaulniers did not expect Sanca to try to resume her position Friday, but he contacted rink staff that morning to let them know what to do if she did try to return to work.

Matthew Koehler, rink maintenance and box office worker, said Desaulniers called to say that Sanca was not a rink employee and should be allowed only in "as a guest or a customer."

Koehler said Sanca arrived just as he had finished talking to Desaulniers. He called box office manager Shannon Fitzgerald, who had been put in charge of operations by the authority last week. Koehler said he kept a written log of the morning's events.

Based on instructions from Desaulniers and Fitzgerald, Koehler asked Sanca to leave at 10:49 a.m. She departed without incident two minutes later, Koehler said.

Sanca could not be reached for comment Friday.

Even before the controversy over Sanca's resignation — and before the Feb. 13 ammonia leak — the authority had planned to seek new rink management. The authority voted Jan. 31 to advertise for a new rink management firm. The authority on Thursday approved a draft request for proposals for a management firm.

Sanca, who had been assistant rink manager, was named interim rink manager last June after the sudden resignation of her husband, former manager James Sanca. The rink had experienced perennial budget deficits and had needed city subsidies. The City Council placed Desaulniers, the council president pro tempore, onto the authority to oversee a financial overhaul.

Before Feb. 13, the financial turnaround seemed successful, with a small profit expected in this year's budget. Then the rink was forced to close for a month, with temporary repairs costing $42,000 and lost revenue not yet enumerated.

c.bessette@theday.com

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