ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- An independent investigation has found that a Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister violated conduct rules when he appointed a former Liberal staffer to a high-ranking public service job and increased the salary for the post.

The Office of the Citizens' Representative, a provincial ombudsman service, has found that Christopher Mitchelmore "grossly mismanaged" his code obligations.

Carla Foote, a former Liberal staffer and daughter of provincial lieutenant-governor Judy Foote, was hired in October 2018 to a marketing position at The Rooms gallery and archive in St. John's, a provincial Crown corporation.

The report tabled today in the provincial legislature says Mitchelmore, then the minister responsible for overseeing The Rooms, told the organization's CEO to hire Foote.

The report also details a meeting on Sept. 21, 2018, when then-CEO Dean Brinton briefed the board's executive committee about a phone call with Mitchelmore. Brinton informed them that Liberal Premier Dwight Ball had already personally offered the job to Foote, the report says.

Members of the executive committee and Brinton told investigators that this was the first time Foote's name had been brought up for the job.

Those interviewed said they felt compelled to go along with Foote's hiring because the order came directly from the minister and the premier had already offered her the job. In subsequent meetings with government, though, they shared their disapproval and concerns about negative public perception.

Foote did not go through the formal application procedure, which the report notes generated "extensive interest." There were 77 applicants, including 21 with master's degrees and greater marketing experience than Foote.

"We find that the board of directors' stated goal of using the merit principle for hiring ... was undermined by the intervention of Mr. Mitchelmore," the report says. "There is no evidence to suggest that an analysis of Ms. Foote's qualifications was assessed in comparison to other potential candidates."

The report found Foote's hiring was not in accordance with the Public Service Commission Act and recommended corrective action against Mitchelmore, who is now minister of advanced education, skills and labour.

Mitchelmore was also found to have grossly mismanaged public funds by signing paperwork facilitating Foote's hiring, which increased the position's annual pay to match her former salary of $132,000 -- the job's previous range was $77,000 to $108,000.

The salary increase meant reclassifying Foote's new job as an executive position and required the board to amend The Rooms' organizational structure.

"The reclassification by the board of the position ... was to accommodate the hire of Ms. Foote," the report says. "The net effect is that The Rooms is over-compensating for the position of Executive Director of Marketing and Development in the range of $30-$40,000 per year."

Mitchelmore defended Foote's hiring by saying it was a "lateral move" transferring Foote between two equal positions, but the report found his rationale did not tell the full story.

It said the position only became an executive position because of Mitchelmore's direction and noted The Rooms is governed by separate legislation, meaning Foote's hiring was not a lateral move.

The province's commissioner for legislative standards recommended Monday that Mitchelmore be reprimanded for the code violations, "to ensure that ministers act diligently in the future when they are involved in matters which may impact the public purse and governance of crown boards or agencies."

In the House of Assembly Monday, Mitchelmore did not respond to questions from opposition members about the report, which was outlined in a CBC News story hours before it was officially tabled.

A written statement from Mitchelmore said he would apologize in the House of Assembly and offered no further comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2019.