Nfld. & Labrador

A marketing director was hired before Carla Foote — then they were fired

A marketing expert with 25 years of experience was hired and cut loose three months before Carla Foote was hired at The Rooms.

The person dismissed may have sued government for wrongful termination

The Rooms is a provincial Crown corporation, housing Newfoundland and Labrador's largest museum, gallery and archive.

A marketing expert with 25 years' experience was hired by The Rooms in the months before government made the decision to place Liberal staffer Carla Foote in charge of marketing at the province's museum and gallery.

That expert — referred to as "A.B." throughout the pages of a bombshell report into the situation — was then cut loose at the order of cabinet minister Chris Mitchelmore.

Mitchelmore's deputy minister called The Rooms CEO Dean Brinton and told him A.B. had to go.

"[Brinton] later received an email containing a letter on mocked-up stationery for his signature that would revoke the contract to A.B.," says the report compiled by citizens' representative Bradley Moss.

Attached to the report is a copy of the letter, which is one sentence long and has the provincial government letterhead at the top — not the usual letterhead used by The Rooms — and a blank space for Brinton to sign his name.

[A.B.] has subsequently made a claim against The Rooms and/or government.- The Mitchelmore Report

Brinton told Moss he didn't want to sign the letter, saying he didn't feel comfortable with the process that was unfolding.

"Minister Mitchelmore then directly instructed Mr. Brinton to sign the letter," the report says.

Brinton said A.B. may have sued government for their termination. He told Moss a claim letter arrived at The Rooms, but it was forwarded to the provincial government and he never heard anything about it after.

CBC News has not been able to verify whether or not a lawsuit has been filed in court, but there is another mention of it in the report.

"[A.B.] has subsequently made a claim against The Rooms and/or government," it says under a section titled "What the evidence suggests."

Not a violation

These statements were contained in one of the three dismissed allegations against Mitchelmore.

As it turns out, Brinton also didn't follow the proper procedure when he extended the offer to A.B.

The marketing director job had been posted publicly and received 73 responses. Brinton put off the hiring process at first, saying he was worried more budget cuts would come and he'd have to lay off whoever he hired.

Former minister of tourism, culture, industry and innovation Chris Mitchelmore took heat for hiring Carla Foote to a high-paying job at The Rooms. (CBC)

In March 2018, however, Mitchelmore and Brinton discussed filling the position. Mitchelmore had somebody in mind, but didn't say who it was, the report stated.

In the next two months, Brinton would email Mitchelmore's deputy minister, Ted Lomond, and ask if they were going to hire this mystery person.

When he didn't receive a response from Lomond, Brinton went ahead and interviewed A.B. He then offered them a nine-month contract prorated from $85,513.

Dean Brinton, then CEO at The Rooms, didn't follow proper procedure when he extended an offer to A.B. (CBC)

He did not get Mitchelmore to sign a crucial document, however, called a request for hire.

As such, it was not a valid contract offer, and Mitchelmore had the power to veto it.

In his interview with Moss, he was asked if he terminated the contract to clear a path for Foote.

"I don't have a particular response to that because the CEO was engaged in a process where he should have looked towards internal government to hire somebody in this particular role," Mitchelmore said. "He did not."

Board members voice concern

A member of The Rooms executive spoke publicly for the first time on Monday.

Margaret Allen, chair of the board of directors, spoke with CBC's On the Go, where she said the board did not like the fact Foote was hired without competition.

Donors and volunteers were threatening to withhold their money and time.- The Mitchelmore Report

"Our concern was, you know, obviously, for staff to have an opportunity to apply and, you know, just generally a good process," she said. "So we expressed our concerns at the time."

The report says the board believed the decision was ordered by the premier.

Two members went as far as to hire lawyers to see if they had any recourse. They were told what Mitchelmore did wasn't illegal, and they should find a way to get along.

"The Rooms staff were upset," the report says, summarizing the statements of board members. "Donors and volunteers were threatening to withhold their money and time, and the negative publicity was politicizing what should be a non-political institution."

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Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.