Nfld. & Labrador

Bonavista mayor asked MHA's staff to pen critical letter

Bonavista Mayor Betty Fitzgerald asked the local Tory MHA's staff to write a letter for her signature that slammed a fellow councillor for "negativity" and disavowed knowledge about crumbling heritage sites in the town.

Betty Fitzgerald had Tory member’s office write missive slamming 'negativity' about crumbling heritage sites

Betty Fitzgerald is the mayor of Bonavista. (CBC)

Bonavista Mayor Betty Fitzgerald asked the local Tory MHA’s staff to write a letter for her signature that slammed a fellow councillor for "negativity" and disavowed knowledge about crumbling heritage sites in the town.

But the letter was never sent, in part because those claims — that the town was unaware of problems with the iconic lighthouse and a local heritage home — turned out to be factually incorrect.

The letter — penned for Fitzgerald’s signature by Tory MHA Glen Little’s staff — noted that "the first indication I received on this matter is when CBC contacted me [Tuesday] afternoon."

But that’s not correct.

Glenn Little has been MHA for Bonavista South since the fall 2011 provincial election. (CBC)

Over the past year, Bonavista town clerk David Hiscock sent two letters to the tourism minister highlighting maintenance concerns.

Those letters note that the town council discussed the issue "at some length," in at least two meetings.

And Fitzgerald attended at least one of those meetings, according to documents posted on the town’s website. The minutes of the other meeting do not appear to be online.

The mayor defended her request to outsource writing the letter, saying town staffers were away on holidays and medical leave, and the office was "overwhelmed" with work. Fitzgerald also noted that she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome.

"I asked this young lady if she would do it for me," Fitzgerald said. "Because that’s what she’s there for — to help people out if they want something done."

Little also said there is no reason for concern.

"Based on the fact that my constituency assistant was asked to do a letter on behalf of Mayor Fitzgerald, due to the circumstances, I don’t see it being a problem," Little said.

Letter unsent

CBC News has obtained all three letters — the two actually sent, and the one written by Little’s staff for Fitzgerald that wasn’t. Bonavista town staff advised the mayor not to send that letter, citing the factual errors. It was destined for Tourism Minister Derrick Dalley.

The unsent letter criticized comments made by Bonavista Coun. John Norman about ongoing maintenance issues at the lighthouse and Mockbeggar Plantation, the former home of Confederation advocate Gordon Bradley.

"Please know that Mr. John Norman is acting independently in this matter as a ‘concerned citizen’ of the community," the letter noted.

Peeling paint is one of the maintenance issues affecting the Bonavista lighthouse. (CBC)

"I am very disappointed that this issue was dealt with this way."

The letter — written by Little’s staff — stressed the importance of Little himself in dealing with such issues.

"The town of Bonavista has a good relationship with our provincial government and is grateful for the continued support we receive. We do not wish to jeopardize our standing by going to the media with this type of negativity."

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Fitzgerald said the mayor and deputy mayor generally speak to the media on town issues, not councillors.

She acknowledged, however, that she can’t stop Norman from doing so.

"Anybody’s got freedom of speech, and there’s nothing I could do about that," the mayor said.

The mayor said she has had many discussions with Little since he was elected in the fall 2011 provincial vote.

Little, meanwhile, stressed the "good relationship" between the Bonavista town council and the provincial government.