At 10 am on Monday, Sept. 13, just days before hockey season was set to begin, Thomas Fagan resigned his post as ice arena manager at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. As the rink’s fourth manager to leave since its opening in 2000, Fagan also became another casualty of a facility whose managers seem doomed to abrupt and unexplained departures.
Fagan had been placed on administrative leave approximately three weeks earlier, City of Santa Fe interim Human Resources Director Vicki Gage writes in an email to SFR, “for confidential personnel reasons.”
City officials are tight-lipped about the reasons for Fagan’s resignation, and Fagan himself “isn’t talking,” Marc Martin—a longtime hockey player, coach and referee at the Chavez Center—tells SFR.
(SFR left multiple messages at the telephone number listed for Thomas Fagan, but they were not returned.)
To Chavez Center regulars like Martin, the departure of a manager who played an instrumental role in revitalizing adult hockey in Santa Fe seems unjustified. But to others, it’s no surprise—either because frequent turnover is the way of the ice arena world, or, they say, because Fagan didn’t do as much for the Chavez Center as he should have. Either way, Fagan leaves behind a lot of unanswered questions about Chavez Center politics.
At its opening in 2000, the city-run Chavez Center was hailed as a state-of-the-art public facility equipped with an equally enviable ice arena. And despite the perennial leaks that have plagued other parts of the Chavez Center, the ice arena is still widely regarded as one of the best in the region.
“We have probably the best ice in the Southwest, and maybe even in the West,” Stacy Quinn, the president of both the nonprofit Santa Fe Youth Hockey league and the Santa Fe Skaters Association, says. “The one thing Thomas [Fagan] really did bring to the table was a great understanding of ice management and how to make ice.”
Still, Quinn has some objections to how Fagan ran the arena.
“We never felt Thomas supported youth hockey, and we definitely had our difficulties with him,” Quinn says. “We tried to get along, and some things were starting to work but, overall, we saw a huge decline in our numbers under his administration.”
The ice arena manager’s duties are diverse, ranging from keeping a host of different groups—hockey leagues, figure skating clubs, speed skating groups, private coaches and public skaters—happy to dictating the chemistry of the ice itself.
Tom Miller, the Chavez Center’s energetic skating coordinator, has assumed those duties in addition to his own in Fagan’s absence.
Miller says he’s noticed a decline in the number of children taking beginner skating lessons, but he says he hasn’t figured out why. To Quinn, it’s evidence of Fagan’s bias toward adult hockey.
“[Fagan] brought back adult hockey, and it’s a very robust program—and we’re very happy about that,” Quinn says, “but he did that at the expense of youth.”
Fagan’s supporters don’t see it that way.
Steven Taylor, a veteran skater and the coordinator for the beginner adult hockey league Fagan started, says Fagan and Miller “would make the case so often about how the youth are the future of hockey” that it inspired him to help out with the Chavez Center’s youth hockey program.
Martin, who coaches youth hockey, says Fagan purchased equipment to enable more youth and adults to participate. Anyone who was interested, Martin says, could simply pay the Chavez Center’s $6 drop-in fee, plus another $3 for equipment rental.
“I grew up in Canada, where hockey is king,” Martin says. “I have never, ever experienced that before—equipment supplied by the rink? No. Thomas put that together. For somebody saying he wasn’t supporting youth hockey, they need to look closely at what he’s done.”
Martin also points to Fagan’s ability to turn those $9 skate sessions into a major revenue generator for the Chavez Center. After membership fees, ice arena revenues from skate, rink and user fees have accounted for the second-largest income source for the center for the past two fiscal years.
“Nothing is ever said about what Thomas Fagan has done for the rink: make money,” Martin says.
Indeed: Recession notwithstanding, revenues from skate and rink rentals generated a total of $160,437 in the 2009-10 fiscal year, exceeding 2008-09 incomes and far outpacing expected incomes.
“What I don’t understand is, for a rink doing so well, that they would release [Fagan] without explaining much to the public,” Martin says. “I’ve seen a lot of managers come and go, and these are great managers,” he adds. “As users, we’re concerned as to who’s running the rink.”
A clue may lie with Russ Cagnoni, the Chavez Center ice arena’s manager from 2000-2004, whose departure was shrouded in as much mystery as Fagan’s. A 2004 news article quoted city councilors’ claims that Cagnoni had been fired, but also quoted then-City Manager Mike Lujan as calling Cagnoni’s departure a resignation.
SFR reached Cagnoni at his current job, as an assistant ice arena manager in Steamboat Springs, Colo.—and while Cagnoni still wouldn’t comment on his own reasons for leaving, he does offer some insight into problems at the Chavez Center.
“It’s a difficult position, being an ice arena in New Mexico,” Cagnoni says. “You have to think outside the box.”
By outside the box, Cagnoni means things such as letting the ice arena operate as a separate entity so that it can keep longer hours. The Steamboat rink, he says—which is also city-run—stays open from 5:30 am-midnight to accommodate all the different skaters.
“That is typical for an ice arena,” he says—but, at the Chavez Center, “it was difficult to do that without meeting resistance.”
Cagnoni says the Chavez Center could make more money off the arena if its hours were more flexible—but reiterates the challenge of Chavez Center politics.
“You just have to let things happen, trust the person you hire, not micromanage [and] let them operate the facility,” he says. Quinn, too, says the center’s management could be streamlined.
Miller says he’s holding up fine as skating coordinator-cum-rink manager. So does that mean Fagan’s position is unnecessary anyway?
“That is something the Chavez Center can look at, that we are capable of contracting with them on a direct basis without having layers and layers of bureaucracy,” Quinn says.
City Manager Robert Romero tells SFR the position cannot be advertised without City Council approval for hiring. As of Sept. 23, the issue had not been scheduled to go before the council.
But with city officials unwilling to talk about why Fagan left—and neither Miller nor Chavez Center Special Projects Administrator Rachel Wexler, who sat in on Miller’s interview with SFR, would comment, either—it’s hard to know exactly what needs to (or can) change. For Martin, that’s the main source of rink users’ frustration.
“We just want some answers,” Martin says. “People didn’t know what happened to [Cagnoni], and people don’t know what happened to [Fagan]. You sort of wonder: Could this happen to the future manager? If a manager’s smart, they will do some investigating before they accept a position at the Chavez Center.”