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July 24, 2012
Sir James Mitchell writes Bequia Rotary Club

Former prime minister Sir James Mitchell is now involved in the impasse over a property in Bequia, presently occupied by the Rotary Club of Bequia, which a school, part-owned by one of his daughters, wants to use.{{more}}

The Rotary Club, however, says it will not vacate the premises without a legal fight.

Sir James, last Thursday, wrote President of the Bequia Rotary Club Clayton Ollivierre, citing power of attorney on behalf of Lower Bay School (LBS) trustee Marie Kingston — who resides in Canada — and told the Rotarians they had 48 hours to hand over the keys of the property to him or Bert King, the other trustee.

Ollivierre told SEARCHLIGHT on Saturday that the club had informed its lawyer of the development and said yesterday that no action had been taken against the Rotarians, who are still occupying the property.

Sir James’ daughter, Sabrina Mitchell, an owner of Paradise Primary, on Saturday gave SEARCHLIGHT a copy of a 99-year lease her school signed with the trustees, which shows that Paradise Primary has paid the $99 for the duration of the agreement.

The law firm of Louise Mitchell-Joseph, another of Sir James’ daughters and lawyer for the trustees, prepared the lease.

She said that the trustees’ lease with Paradise Primary varies from that of the Rotarians.

“That has a very strong termination clause, we do not,” she said.

Sabrina Mitchell and Edwin J.F. Sutton signed on behalf of Paradise Primary, while King and Kingston — a former employee of the Mitchells – signed as trustees.

Sir James and N. Wallace signed as witnesses.

But both the Rotary Club and Paradise Primary are claiming that their respective leases are valid.

However, Sylvester Simmons, a founding member of the Rotary Club of Bequia told SEARCHLIGHT on Saturday that the club “failed” in not paying the $1 per year required as part of the lease agreement.

Simmons, along with Ollivierre, club treasurer Lucile Cozier and past treasurer Franklyn Boucher, spoke to SEARCHLIGHT at the property in Lower Bay, Bequia on Saturday.

Simmons said it seemed that the trustees were “glad that we have made that mistake so you can accommodate somebody else.

“How come you allow us to stay 14 years and did not evict us or enforce,” he told SEARCHLIGHT.

“There are a few questions you have to ask: Why was it not enforced before? What suddenly caused this storm surge? Would it have been done for any other school or any other people by the present trustees?

“You look at the link between who the trustees are and who the trustees of the school who want to come in here. You check the relationship and you have the answer why.

“Let the community answer that. The whole country knows that. I wouldn’t answer it. I would keep my answer for last,” Simmons further said.

The buildings of the defunct Lower Bay School (LBS) were leased to the Rotary Club in 1997 and the LBS trustees wrote to the Rotarians in March, 2012, terminating the lease.

Paradise Primary approached the trustees and asked to put their school at LBS because their current lease had ended and the Rotarians had refused to share space with them.

“We have an option to ask the Rotary to leave within a year if we want them to and they also had an option to leave if they wanted to,” Trustee Bert King told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday.

“I didn’t feel too good about it,” he said when asked about the trustees having given the Rotary Club 60 days to leave, rather than one year, as the lease states.

“It was a sort of abrupt thing. … I didn’t feel too good about it,” he said, adding that because Paradise Primary is a school, special provision was made.

But the Rotary Club is arguing that the termination of their lease is unfair since the trustees never demanded their money.

“If I sign a lease with you, I ain’t suppose to call you and remind you about the lease. That is a very petty part of it. I won’t worry about that part too much,” King told SEARCHLIGHT.

He said that while the property, under the Rotary’s tenancy “wasn’t well-kept”, that was “beyond the point”.

“The whole thing is that my argument is that the place was actually bought for a school and it was being underutilized so I thought it would have been a good thing that they can share it with the school.”

But Sabrina said that Paradise Primary now has exclusive legal rights to the property, a point about which King said he did not want to comment.

King, however, said that the Board of Governors, required by the Lower Bay School Incorporation Act, 1986, has been “non-existent for a very long time” and added that no new trustee was appointed to replace one who died some time ago.

He said that he knew that Sir James had power of attorney on behalf of Kingston.

“I am aware of that but I still feel that we should go through a regular procedure and get everybody to agree.”

Asked about Sir James’ letter telling the Rotarians to hand over the keys, King said:

“I don’t know what to tell you about that.”

And while the Rotarians and Paradise Primary have said or suggested that the impasse could end in court, King said he did not know what would happen if the Rotarians fail to move out of the building.

Meanwhile, Cozier told SEARCHLIGHT that her club’s work benefits the island and the nation.

“What is the school (Paradise Primary) used for? … That is what it is? It is a private school. This (Bequia Rotary) is a community-service provider.”

She said the trustees were “ridiculous” in using the non-payment of money to make a case against the club.

“Which is ridiculous. What about the money we have put in here. How does that money compensate for the $13 dollars that we owe … which we can write a cheque for now,” she said.

“It’s heavy handed. To pounce on us to serve somebody else,” Cozier further said.

The club said it has invested $50,000 in changing the roof and making other improvements to the building.

“But that does not mean anything to the trustees of the Lower Bay School, plus the people who want to come in here. It is heartless,” Olliverre told SEARCHLIGHT.

As the impasse continues, both parties fear displacement with Paradise Primary at risk of closing if suitable accommodation is not found before September and the Rotary Club left with no place to store its assets, including crockery used in it training programmes and events.