'Hush money': Government cut $20K cheque to person hired at The Rooms before Carla Foote

The provincial government paid $20,000 to a marketing professional who was let go three months before Carla Foote was hired at The Rooms.

Documents obtained by CBC News through access to information requests confirm the payment came with conditions — stay silent, and don't sue the government.

The person's name was blacked out from the paperwork. They were hired by The Rooms CEO Dean Brinton before Tourism Minister Chris Mitchelmore offered the job to Foote, a longtime Liberal staffer.

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie is not surprised the person was paid, nor that a non-disclosure agreement was included.

"The government wanted to pay hush money to get this out of the public eye," he said. "That's what happened, and there's a confidentiality clause in the agreement so of course it's all covered and shrouded in secrecy."

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation said Brinton was not authorized to hire the person, and thus the contract was rescinded. The spokesperson said government followed standard procedure in settling the claim.

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The contract to the person — previously referred to as A.B. in the pages of a report into Mitchelmore's actions — was for nine months of work, prorated from an $85,000 annual salary.

It was for the position of marketing director.

A.B. never ended up working a day at The Rooms.

The same day Brinton let government know about the hiring, Mitchelmore's deputy minister, Ted Lomond, sent Brinton a termination letter to forward to A.B.

It had Brinton's name at the bottom and a blank space to sign his name.

For several months, Mitchelmore and his department said they had someone in mind to fill the position. Foote was hired three months after A.B. was fired.

The position was elevated to executive director of marketing at a salary of $132,000.

Brinton would later be terminated, too, leaving behind the job he'd filled for 15 years.

He left with $147,550 in salary under the dismissal clause of his contract, and an undisclosed chunk for legal fees.

Brinton also signed a non-disclosure agreement upon his departure.

Mitchelmore's involvement in the situation was later investigated by the Office of the Citizen's Representative. His role in the hiring of Foote was found to be "gross mismanagement" of taxpayer dollars.

He was suspended two weeks without pay and forced to apologize in the House of Assembly.

Candidate was highly qualified

While the identity of A.B. has not been released by the provincial government, CBC News has been able to confirm the person's resumé.

Their marketing experience goes back to the early 1990s with major marketing firms and private contracts in several countries.

They should feel that it's an assault on our democratic system. - Ches Crosbie

The person also holds a university degree — a requisite listed in job ads for the position at The Rooms, and something Foote does not have.

Premier Dwight Ball has vouched for Foote's abilities, saying she was a great fit for the position at The Rooms. However, he denied having anything to do with her hiring.

Motivation to topple government?

Sources told CBC News that Ball was once advised the Carla Foote situation would be a two-day story, but it's been one that's dogged him for more than a year.

It followed the Liberals through an election in which they lost several seats and fell to a minority government.

While "co-operation" was the buzzword in the days after the election, Crosbie isn't talking about that now.

Department of Justice and Public Safety

When asked if the Foote-Mitchelmore situation could be a push to get to the polls, Crosbie said that's up to the people of the province.

He has clear thoughts on how they should feel about this situation. 

"They should feel that it's an assault on our democratic system, one of the principles of which is that government hiring is done on the basis of merit," he said.

"This takes that a step further. It takes it to the point where you can be fired if it's convenient to those in power — the Liberal government in this case — to make room for somebody they like better who is one of their own."

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