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 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.
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.