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MP’s comments not exactly honourable

September 23, 2013

Dear Sir,

I am writing this letter because of the untrue and very misleading comments made about me by the “honourable” member of the House, MP Sylvan Richards, on Friday, September 20th, in the House of Parliament. I heard the comments by accident on the 5:00 news as I was driving. You see, I am one of the two contractors that the “honourable” member said did a poor job maintaining the former St. George's Golf Club property, than walked away from said job when offered new contracts. He made these comments in response to comments from the opposition that the Government was neglecting said property.

Even though my co-worker and I were not named, we are both St. Georgians Mr. Editor, and it was widely known who the “two contractors” are, and I strongly feel the need to protect our reputations. I'll start from the beginning.

In October of 2012, I was hired by the former PLP Government as one of two contractors to maintain the former golf course. We were given two riding mowers and two, sometimes three, inmates from the Farm in Ferry Reach would use lawnmowers and weed trimmers to maintain around fences, trees, etc. From the start, the riding mowers took turns regularly breaking down as they were old rejects that had been pulled from the Parks Department and the Ocean View Golf Course. Very rarely were they operating in good order at the same time. Within a few months, the inmates were released, not replaced, and my co-worker and myself absorbed the trimming duties (without renegotiating the contracts, I might add). On top of this, even though the contracts stated that we were to be paid on a weekly basis, it was the norm to receive our pay every two, sometimes three weeks.

Then the election took place in December 2012 and the Government changed hands. Not only did our pay become even more infrequent, one of the riding mowers was absorbed back into the Parks Department and the machine given to us by Ocean View broke down for the fiftieth time and was never repaired. In short, we were responsible for maintaining 80 odd acres of golf course with two lawnmowers and two weed trimmers. To his credit, Mr. Keith Freeman, our immediate contact in Parks, and the final Superintendent of St. George's Golf Course, did his utmost to try and ensure that we were paid on time and tried to get the machines repaired and returned to us as quickly as possible.

Around this time we lost the machines for the final time. Ms. Lisa Johnston, the Director of Parks, called us into a meeting and stated that in order for our employment to continue, we were to sign new contracts. After reading them, we realised that our take home pay every week would drop from $934.00 to just over $500.00. Wanting to think it over, we asked for the weekend to make up our minds. In order to ensure we were making an informed decision, we asked for, and were granted, a meeting with Mr. Louis Somner, an organiser with the Bermuda Industrial Union. After reading the contracts, and seeing what we were up against (he saw us regularly working as he lives in St. Georges) he said it amounted to modern day slavery (exact words).

He asked for, and was given permission, to call Ms. Johnston at the Parks Dept to request a meeting to discuss said contracts. Even though both of us weren't union members, Mr. Somner was still willing to go to bat for us. He made the call to Ms. Johnston while we were still in the office, and on speakerphone we heard the Director of Parks tell Mr. Somner that there would be no meeting as we weren't unionised and furthermore, if she didn't receive the contracts signed by the end of business that day, we wouldn't have our jobs the next. Shaking his head in disbelief, Mr. Somner advised us not to sign the contracts, as he would be talking to BIU President Mr. Chris Furbert, and he was sure something would be worked out to our benefit. Two days later Mr. Somner called me and said that the Parks Department was still refusing to meet with him and/or Mr. Furbert, and if we wanted recourse we would have to contact the media, and fight our case in the court of public opinion.

At this point I spoke to my area MP Mr. Kenneth Bascome, who promised to look into it as he felt we were doing a good job and were being treated unfairly. When he reported back that he was being ignored and was upset at being disrespected because he and MP Nandy Davis had won the government for the OBA, I made contact by e-mail with Premier Craig Cannonier, who also felt something was amiss and promised to look into it, and possibly put me in touch with Minister Sylvan Richards.

To this day (4 months later), I have yet to receive a response.

So you see, Mr. Editor, we didn't, as the “honourable” member said, “Walk Away” from our jobs and with so many area residents, as well as MP Kenneth Bascome, stopping us on the street to tell us what a great job we were doing, we really wonder who this unnamed source is who told the Minister that we were doing such a poor job. He/she must be pretty important if their word is taken over his colleague in the House! To this day we are asked why we aren't still there, and why has so much Government property, in a World Heritage Site at that, been ignored. To the second part of the question, I have no answer. As this letter is 100% truth Mr. Editor, I have no problem signing my name.

Jeremy Smith

(Photo by Mark Tatem/File) Setting the record straight: Former St George's Golf Course groundsman Jeremy Smith has taken exception to comments made by MP Sylvan Richards.

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Published September 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm)

MP’s comments not exactly honourable

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