Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Credit Union Centre staff fired after trip: Arizona trip was for CFL fact-finding, ex-staff say

Two senior Credit Union Centre managers have been fired over a trip to Arizona where there was more than $7,000 of "inappropriate" spending, the chair of the organization's board says.

The former employees - Brian Swidrovich, director of business development, and Will Antonishyn, director of finance and ticketing - have filed lawsuits in which they claim an October trip to Phoenix was one of several trips that included looking into sponsorship, event production, relationship building and the possibility of a Canadian Football League franchise and stadium for Saskatoon.

In separate statements of claim filed Monday, Swidrovich and Antonishyn say the trip was approved by the executive director at the time, Ken Wood, who retired before he went on the Arizona trip.

The trip, which was taken with two others not identified in the statements of claim, was also to "provide recognition" and "solidify the relationship with these individuals," says Swidrovich's statement of claim against defendants Credit Union Centre and board chair Rich Gabruch.

"The trip taken was consistent with past trips with the same individuals," the statement of claims say.

The trip was used to "deal with issues that were of direct value and importance" to the Credit Union Centre, the plaintiffs say.

The Credit Union Centre, formerly Saskatchewan Place, is owned by the City of Saskatoon.

The centre is overseen by a board of directors that includes the mayor, two city councillors and members of the community.

The October trip included flights, meals and "club seats" to a National Football League game, says Gabruch, chair of the CUC board of directors, in an interview Monday morning before the suits were filed. There was more than $7,000 spent, he says.

"There was some inappropriate spending that had occurred," Gabruch says. "Once (a review) was completed, it was determined that termination was reasonable."

The review showed the expenses, charged to a CUC credit card, "were not for Credit Union Centre business or City of Saskatoon business," Gabruch says.

Larry Seiferling, the lawyer for Antonishyn and Swidrovich, said the trip was approved by the executive director at the time, Wood, who retired in September and was replaced by Will Lofdahl.

"They were just following all the past practices," Seiferling says. "The approval came from the executive director (who) had been approving this exact same trip for two years.

"This was not a trip that was first taken this year. The court will decide whether the trip was appropriate or not, and I have no doubt they will find that these guys, the guys that went on the trip, were just doing what they've always done. So why were they let go for it? I understand that a new guy can change rules, but you have to tell these people. You can't fire them for it. That's really the issue."

In the claim, the plaintiffs say Gabruch knew about the trip and there were "at least two occasions" to tell the employees it was "inappropriate" prior their leaving.

Gabruch said he was not aware of the trip until afterwards.

Antonishyn and Swidrovich, employees of the Credit Union Centre since 1988 and 1994, respectively, were never disciplined during their tenure with the organization, the statements of claim say.

The trip was planned in 2010, one of the statements of claim says. It "carried many of the same business objectives as the approved client appreciation trips taken in prior years and was based on previously approved sponsorship objectives and plans."

Investigating the possibility of a CFL team and stadium for Saskatoon was a "secondary objective" of the trip, the claims say. In Antonishyn's statement of claim, he says he still believed looking into a CFL franchise for Saskatoon was viable because he was asked about it when he interviewed for the CUC executive director position in September.

"(Venue) observations pertained to the possibility of a CFL franchise and stadium project," for Saskatoon, the plaintiffs say.

Wood, the former executive director, declined to comment when reached Monday morning. Antonishyn could not be reached for comment. In his statement of claim, Antonishyn says he was convinced to go on the trip by the executive director at the time and was only in Phoenix for two days.

Swidrovich directed all questions to his lawyer.

He released a statement via email to The StarPhoenix.

"After close to 18 years representing Credit Union Centre and this community with pride and respect, I am deeply concerned as to the manner in which I have been relieved of my position," Swidrovich says in the statement. "This situation has caused a great deal of hurt and anguish for me and my family."

In the suits, the two former employees seek damages including wages, benefits and other unspecified damages.

The City of Saskatoon and the CUC board is looking at a review of previous trips, Gabruch says.

"It would be imprudent for a corporation not to analyze the books after something like this comes to light," Gabruch says. "It certainly raises a whole bunch of interesting questions and certainly all those questions contributed to the decision to terminate."

Swidrovich organized the Cameco Canada Remembers International Air Show, which was restarted last year after a hiatus.

The board and Credit Union Centre management is "looking at the issue as we speak" and will determine if the air show will run this summer, Gabruch says.

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