A major row has broken out over allegations that Premier Ewart Brown personally handpicked the new acting head of tourism for North America.

Emilygail Dill - who has no previous experience working within the tourist industry - was only seconded to the Department of Tourism late last year.

The staunch PLP supporter has now leapfrogged public servants with 20 years' experience to take charge in New York, the hub of Bermuda's overseas operation.

The former director in New York, Glenn Bean, who had served with the office for 17 years, was given a large publicly funded payoff to resign and make way for Mrs. Dill, the Bermuda Sun understands.

As the row deepened yesterday, Department of Tourism staff told this newspaper that morale in New York is at an all time low. Hoteliers and union chiefs in Bermuda warned that the knock-on effect could be fewer tourists being lured to the island.

Sources within the Department of Tourism say that Dr. Brown - who is also Tourism Minister - personally accompanied Mrs. Dill into the New York office for her first day at work. She originally arrived to work on "special projects" - believed to be faith-based tourism - before taking up the top job.

It is alleged she has since had repeated direct contact with Premier Brown, bypassing the established chain of command. Protocol dictates that the head of an overseas office would answer in the first instance to Bermuda's director of tourism, who would then report to the permanent secretary who in turn would report to the minister.

One member of staff, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: "It was made very clear to us at the beginning that this [Mrs. Dill] was Dr. Brown's choice. This was his person.

"There are people here who have worked in tourism for 20 years. She [Mrs. Dill] walks into the office with Dr. Brown and four months later she is in the top job. It came out of the blue. We are all very dedicated here - working our holidays and weekends. All that has stopped. We are all so demoralized, we don't want to be at work one minute longer than necessary. How are we meant to sell Bermuda with a smile when we feel walked all over?"

The source continued: "She [Mrs. Dill] is the eyes and ears of Dr. Brown. We don't know if we can trust her to keep our confidence. How can we operate like that? There is meant to be a chain of command, but we know that anything we say can go directly back to the Premier. None of us want to talk. The office is dysfunctional."

The Bermuda Public Services Union (BPSU) yesterday said it was "deeply concerned" about the allegations and intends to fly a representative to America to investigate.

Union secretary Ed Ball said that a barrier is maintained between politicians and public servants for good reason: to increase the accountability of government and to allow public servants to operate in a free and efficient manner.

On the subject of experienced tourism staff being passed over for an apparent novice, Mr. Ball said it "did not bode well" for the health of tourism in Bermuda. He said: "This sends a bad message to people who have been in a service for a number of years and who have certain expertise. They feel they are being passed over by people who have no specific skills except for in administration."

Gagging clause

Previous Director of Sales and Marketing in New York, Mr. Bean, signed a gagging clause as part of his pay-off, the Bermuda Sun understands. However, a source close to him said: "He was forced to resign. They offered him a job beneath him, he declined, and then they waved a big cheque in his face to get him out of the way. Next thing, his desk was cleared and Emilygail Dill was sitting there."

Mrs. Dill is also contractually bound not to talk to the press. However, an investigation by the Bermuda Sun has revealed that Mrs. Dill - who has previously worked for a Government quango - wanted to move to New York to be with her husband, Howard Dill, who moved there as a pastor two years ago. Mrs. Dill requested the move and it was reviewed and engineered by Dr. Brown.

The Bermuda Sun understands that Mrs. Dill's resume includes spells as a teacher, and as the manager of a theatre company. She is an ordained AME church minister and she has held a senior post with the World Council of Churches.

Those who know Mrs. Dill - who is in her mid-40s - says she is a driven and intelligent administrator, who is more than capable of dealing with the "learning curve" of running the top tourism office.

According to a source, Mrs. Dill does not deny that Dr. Brown had reviewed her C.V. and picked her for the job. However, the source said: "But there's nothing more untoward than that. Dr. Brown just wanted the very best person for the job. He looked at [Mrs. Dill's] resume and decided that with [her] skills and experience [she was the right choice]." The source added that Mrs. Dill was as surprised as anyone to find herself in the top job in New York. However, she said the demands were well within her capabilities.

However, hoteliers on the island have been taken aback by Mrs. Dill's lack of experience in tourism. Despite her career successes in America, her only high-profile position in Bermuda was as head of the Ruth Seaton James Centre for the Performing Arts, which haemorrhaged money before it closed in late 2006 due to mould problems.

The financial management of the Ruth Seaton James Centre was severely criticized in consecutive reports by the Auditor General. The second report, in 2006, said the centre continued to "drain [financial] resources" from its host, the CedarBridge Academy. The Auditor General said in his report: "The Auditorium was originally intended to be financially self-sustaining...During the past five years, the Auditorium has accumulated losses totalling $744,000, money that could have gone to educational programmes."

Nothing personal

Mike Winfield, of The Bermuda Hotel Association (BHA) said that its members were concerned about the appointment of Mrs. Dill. He said: "This is nothing personal against Mrs. Dill. We just don't know her. Our position is clear: that Bermuda needs the best possible professionals in those top positions. Bermuda is up against incredibly stiff competition for tourism revenue and we need real skills and knowledge in order to compete."

Privately, many hoteliers are voicing their concerns far more vehemently. One senior industry figure told the Bermuda Sun: "Everybody is up in arms about this. We keep hearing that tourism is on the up, but we don't trust the figures. This level of political interference is one more dangerous sign that things are not as rosy as they seem."

An acting head of a civil service can serve for a maximum of six months. Mr. Winfield said the BHA would be seeking reassurances that the Government properly advertise and fill the permanent post of Director of Sales and Marketing in New York once Mrs. Dill's temporary stint finishes.

The Bermuda Sun has been trying for several days to elicit comment from Premier Brown. We e-mailed questions to him and although his press secretary Glenn Jones was able to confirm Mrs. Dill's appointment, he did not address our specific questions about alleged political interference.