Tony Lanza, the longtime superintendent of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, was dismissed from his position today.
Belleayre Mountain is currently run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is preparing to hand over the management of the mountain to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). Lanza was dismissed by the DEC.
DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis wrote in an email that the department was in possession of information that warranted Lanza’s dismissal, but would not comment further.
“As this is a personnel matter, we cannot provide more information,” DeSantis wrote.
Attempts to reach Lanza, ORDA officials, and Belleayre staffers today were unsuccessful.
The Watershed Post has also confirmed that Lanza is currently being investigated by the New York State Inspector General’s office. Last month, acting on a news tip, the Watershed Post filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the Inspector General's office in an effort to find out whether Lanza was being investigated for ski pass giveaways. The request was denied, but the Inspector General's office confirmed that the investigation was ongoing.
"The matter about which you inquire is the subject of an ongoing confidential investigation by this office, and access to records related to the investigation is denied," a records access officer wrote on May 1.
A spokesman for the New York State Office of the Inspector General said today that “the Inspector General’s Office will neither confirm nor comment on any potential or pending investigation.”
This is not the first time Lanza has been investigated for his management of the Belleayre Ski Center. In 2007, Lanza was at the center of a two-year conflict of interest investigation by the Inspector General’s Office. A report from the investigation found that Lanza “engaged in conduct that constituted a conflict of interest between his official duties and private activities."
DeSantis wrote in an email that the management of Belleayre Mountain has not yet been transferred to ORDA. The transfer of Belleayre management from the DEC to ORDA was agreed upon during this year's state budget process.
Many Belleayre employees and local supporters of the ski center have been apprehensive about the ORDA transfer. Earlier this year, in what was widely interpreted as an unofficial act of protest, five Belleayre ski lift operators called in sick on a critical holiday weekend.
Lanza continues to have fervent defenders. A petition was circulated earlier this year to keep Lanza at the helm of Belleayre after the planned transfer to ORDA.
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, told the Watershed Post today that Lanza has his support.
"Tony has done an outstanding job," Kelly said. "He has been a super supporter of the musical festival and has tremendous passion for the region and mountain. I have nothing but the highest regard for him."
During last year's flooding from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, the Belleayre Ski Center played a critical role as an emergency shelter and disaster relief center for people stranded by the floods. Lanza and his staff were widely praised for that work; during the disaster, a FEMA branch director stationed in the region said Belleayre's was the best disaster support operation he had ever seen.