Composition of non-profit arena board changed, connection to Wilmington groups diminished
In the wake of the Bruins announcement that they will leave Ristuccia Arena to move closer to Boston, Wilmington residents and leaders are looking closely at the relationship between the arena and the town, and aren’t happy with what they see.
With significant changes to the composition of the board that has governed the non-profit side of the arena over the last thirty years, this rink, built with the understanding that Wilmington youth and adults will have primary access to that resource, has morphed over thirty years to a facility that seems to cater to professional hockey, private schools, and elite skating clubs over local interests.
At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting Michael Newhouse raised the issue in his comments after a reporter asked him about the Bruins planned departure.
“It brings into focus for me an issue that I know many, many residents have expressed frustration over. That is the use of that skating rink as it was intended to be a resource for Wilmington residents and Wilmington kids,” said Newhouse.
In 1984 Town Meeting voted to rezone a parcel off Main Street at the request of the Ristuccia family, in order to build a rink. The deal, at the time, was that the Ristuccia family would pay to build the rink, putting up $500,000 for the project, and then lease the structure back to a non-profit organization comprised of representatives from a variety of community stakeholders. That non-profit, the Wilmington Arena Authority, filed bylaws with the Attorney General in June 1985 that delineated exactly the roles of the Board of Directors.
The composition of the Board of Directors, and specifically the qualifications to serve on it, was intended to ensure that the promise to make this facility a Wilmington resource was kept. Former Wilmington High School Athletic Director, Jim Gillis, authored those bylaws.
The Board was comprised of six members with the following qualifications (names of original board members): one representative each from Wilmington Youth Hockey (Bill Savosik), Wilmington Skating Club (Sue Farkas), Wilmington Recreation Department (Jack Cushing), Wilmington Law Enforcement (Bob Shelley), Wilmington High School (WHS) Athletic Department (James Gillis) and one community member at large (Dick Gunn). Gillis originally served as chairman of the authority, but left the board around the time the Bruins signed on, in the late 1980s.
As Newhouse pointed out in his comments, the Wilmington Arena Authority is now called the Investment In Youth Foundation (IIYF). The bylaws no longer reflect a membership requirement in the above stakeholders, and IRS filings indicate a number of grants to out-of-town private Catholic schools and organizations. Even the website and email addresses listed on those tax returns are defunct, contributing to concerns about transparency.
“What that group has done to the kids and people of Wilmington is a disgrace,” says Jim Gillis. “Because, very simply, the townspeople voted to rezone that land for the purpose of benefitting the kids of Wilmington, and once that group changed directives, they took a different course, and each year it got worse for the kids of Wilmington for scheduling and ability to have ice time.”
Gillis said that during his tenure as Athletic Director the school rented ice in Lowell, Reading, Tewksbury, and Stoneham. According to former Chair of Wilmington Youth Hockey, John Foley, after the rink turned to a for-profit company to operate the facility in 2005, rates for ice reportedly increased significantly, going from $180 per hour to $265 per hour.
Last year the Wilmington High School boys and girls hockey teams each played seven home games at Ristuccia, a lower than average number. Out of twenty games, ten should have been on home ice. Two home games for each team were played in Stoneham.
Wilmington youth hockey parents have complained for years that the times for practices are often impractical for youngsters, that private schools and skating clubs seem to get better ice access, and that the needs of local interests are downplayed.
After Gillis left, Al Reidy, a colleague of Bernard Ristuccia and involved with the arena from the beginning, became chair of the Arena authority. His wife, Arlene Reidy, was hired as general manager to run the rink. The Town Crier spoke to Arlene this week, to ask her about the changes to the bylaws and board composition over the years.
“The board had all the people on it that Jim Gillis thought should be on it,” said Reidy. “That (the board composition) is not a requirement, however it did continue that way for a number of years. The board was 15 people, and how many people are going to be available to continue year after year? We had John Ritchie representing Wilmington High School for years. Kevin Creedon was involved with Wilmington Youth Hockey. Our people are Wilmington locals. We have had that continue, it’s just that the nature of the non-profit changed.”
Today the board has dwindled down to four people, Ken Del Rossi, Kevin Creedon, Kevin Sullivan, and Joanne McCarthy. The bylaws also changed, though, taking out the requirement that membership is made up of certain Wilmington stakeholders, including representatives of the Wilmington Skating Club, law enforcement, WHS, and the recreation department. Who took the votes to make those bylaw changes remains unclear at this time.
So, what happened? In 2005, well after those bylaw changes were made and the board had shed some membership – without replacements being found to step in, Al Reidy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Before his death that summer, Arlene says Al wanted to ensure the continuation of the rink. Though Arlene managed the operations of the rink, the board, she says, “knew at the time that it was Al who knew how to make that business continue,” in part because of the myriad restrictions being a non-profit had on the business.
“Al was very sick with horrible end-stage cancer, and he would not abandon the mission of that rink. He sat down with Bernie Ristuccia and said that they [the board] will offer grant dissemination until the funds wind down,” explained Arlene. “He also asked if Ristuccia would let someone else take over the lease.”
That’s when Bob Rotundo, with a for-profit enterprise, was brought in to operate the rink.
In November 2005 the Wilmington Arena Authority filed for a title change, and changed the name to Investment in Youth Foundation and stopped operating the rink entirely, and existed only to distribute remaining funds in the form of grants to other 501c3 organizations.
“We changed our name so that it was clear that we wouldn’t be running the rink,” said Arlene.
But confusion grew in the community because Arlene took on dual roles, one with the IIYF as the business manager for the board, to “eventually get to the dissolution process,” and another working for Rotundo handling the schedule, accounts payable, insurance review, and liaising with the Bruins, as she had been doing when the Authority operated the rink, but with one caveat. Reidy works entirely from her home in Plymouth, a condition she says she gave both Rotundo and the IIYF board before agreeing to take on those roles, because it was too painful to return to the arena following the death of her husband.
As for the grants, so named Albert F. Reidy, Jr. grants, Arlene says they are disseminated annually to other 501c3 organizations that apply. She states that Wilmington Youth Hockey has received grants of $8,000-$10,000 annually. Wilmington skating club receives closer to $2,500 -$5,000 as it is a much smaller organization.
In the most recent return available publicly, 2012, grant recipients listed were limited to Lowell Catholic High School and Austin Preparatory High School, for $6,000 each, and Wilmington Skating Foundation for $5,000. However, those grants were to ‘subsidize the purchase of equipment and uniforms for the boys and girls hockey programs.’ The Wilmington Skating foundation grant was used to “supplement ice costs, offset increased program fees from the USFS, purchasing training materials, and offset the cost of an ‘early skating trainer.’”
When a 501c3 winds down its operations and is disseminating funds, those funds have to be used for qualified expenditures, which IIYF verifies through an application process. Reidy said that though she worked with town officials in the past to try to donate through a 501c3, tax laws prohibited passing funds through ‘friends of’ or booster type organizations, such as the Face-Off Club.
In 2012, the Town Crier cannot verify any grants to the Wilmington Youth Hockey Program, or any other Wilmington based organization other than the skating foundation, as indicated above.
Many questions remain and the Town Crier is working to uncover the details of how these changes have occurred and will report its findings to the public. The Town Crier is talking to the key stakeholders and endeavors to set the record straight between myth and reality. The Board of Selectmen will be inviting the members of the IIYF to an upcoming selectmen meeting to discuss how the board structure has changed. The next meeting of the selectmen is Monday, August 18, but it is not yet determined if the IIYF board will be on that date’s agenda.