July 24, 2012
Sir James’ daughters defend family name in Rotary Club row

TWO of former prime minister Sir James Mitchell’s daughters have defended their family against accusations that it is using its clout to gain tenancy of a building in Bequia, originally leased to the island’s Rotary Club for 99 years.{{more}}

Sabrina Mitchell, an owner of Bequia Paradise Primary School Inc., a non-profit company, told SEARCHLIGHT on Saturday that Paradise Primary has leased the premises of the defunct Lower Bay School (LBS) for 99 years.

But the Bequia Rotary Club also said its 99-year lease of the property is still valid, although it did not pay for 14 years, the $1 annually, the lease dictates.

SEARCHLIGHT first learned of the situation through a two-page document sent to the publication recently.

The writer of the unsigned document wanted “to inform the entire community of Bequia that serious attempts have been made to take over land and buildings that were donated for their benefit.”

Lawyer Louise Mitchell-Joseph, Sabrina’s younger sister, prepared the lease that Paradise Primary obtained, which became effective June 1.

Sir James signed the lease as a witness and now has power of attorney for Marie Kingston, a trustee for LBS, and a former employee of the Mitchells.

“Marie Kingston is currently in Canada and … obviously, she is not about to fulfil her role as trustee at the moment, so she has given my father the power of attorney on her behalf,” Sabrina told SEARCHLIGHT on Saturday.

Asked how she would respond to persons who say that the Mitchells orchestrated the situation to their advantage, Sabrina said:

“I would say it absolutely has no grounds. There is nothing to be gained for me, my father, anybody.”

Sabrina cited that Sir James founded the Bequia Sailing Club, her mother, Pat Mitchell, is involved in the Bequia Heritage museum and her own involvement in sports on the island.

“We believe in giving to our country,” Sabrina said. “Yes, we are high profile, but this community has benefitted tremendously from our input.

“… This is about kids. It has nothing to do with politics. I feel very sad that it seems to have developed into political because our name is involved. But I cannot remove myself from my name. It’s who I am,” Sabrina said.

Asked how Sir James came to act on Kingston’s behalf, Sabrina said:

“Well, Miss Kingston is a family friend and worked for us for many years and we have known her for many years.”

She further noted that Sir James, was prime minister when the LBS was incorporated in 1986.

Sir James who retired from electoral politics in 2000, also raised funds to build the LBS, Sabrina said.

“He was there from the very genesis of the operation. And, as a close friend of Marie Kingston, he would be an obvious choice for her, I would assume.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell-Joseph last week responded to the claim that her family was ganging up on the Rotary Club.

She said the club had failed to meet its legal responsibility to pay the lease monies.

“They had an asset; they didn’t protect it. They allowed the lease to lapse because of non-payment.

“If people want to look at it from the perspective of the Mitchell family, that’s fine, but the point is, the real issue is where these students are going to go. And school starts back in a month,” Mitchell-Joseph further said.

Paradise Primary has 62 pupils and nine teachers and a tuition fee of $400 or $500 per month.

Persons close to the Rotary Club, who did not want to be named because of the sensitiveness of the issue and the small, close-knit community in Bequia, said that the Rotary Club is being bulldozed.

“It is the owners who make the decision — not me — to deal with the Rotary,” Sabrina told SEARCHLIGHT in response to this view. (KXC)