Search for greener pastures is costing service to community

You would think with seven staffers jettisoned in recent months, there would be plenty of work space available at 99 Edward St., home of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health.
And with a generous offer on the table from their landlord, the County of Elgin, which would see a 50% reduction in rent with an additional 4,000 square feet thrown in as a bonus, surely office space would be low on the priority scale for the publicly-funded health unit.
Boy, is this corner so not with the game plan.
Elgin St. Thomas Public Health (ESTPH) is now inviting proposals for “a physical needs assessment regarding the needs of general space for all ESTPH programs and services.”
Or, as executive director Cynthia St. John puts it, “The Board is seeking the assistance of a firm to guide us in determining all of our needs with respect to new office space – either in a new building or a renovated one.”

The board, by the way, includes Ald. Bill Aarts who sits as chairman, Ald. Tom Johnston (who we understand is a no-show at many recent gatherings of the board) and Ald. Gord Campbell.
Have you three not picked up on the obvious here?
Every dollar spent on this search for greener pastures to satiate the ambitions of the executive director is a valuable dollar hijacked from the delivery of services to this community.

Cynthia St. John

Lest you think the executive director and the board have cornered the market on abdication of responsibility, it’s time to corral the rest of city council and members of Elgin county council.
Did you know in 2009, the city doled out close to $600,000 as an operating grant to ESTPH? For the county, the grant was more than $800,000.
Why has no member of St. Thomas council stood up in open session and asked for a detailed accounting on this significant expenditure of taxpayer dollars along with the reduction in staff and possible impacts on the delivery of services?
Such has been the case with other groups and organizations seeking funds, most recently the North America Railway Hall of Fame.
Why aren’t members of council asking questions?
City Scope will gladly get the ball rolling.
Is it true front-line staff are afraid to contact board members for fear of losing their jobs?
Have some staff members already been disciplined as suspected whistle-blowers?
Has the ESTPH board delved into alleged use of management cell phones for personal matters?
Have five new management positions been created over the past five years with no new front-line staff added?
The executive director’s salary increased by $25,000 in 2009. She told Elgin county council this was to due overtime associated with the H1N1 pandemic. In her leadership position, why is St. John reaping overtime benefits?
Meantime, she has explained to ESTPH staff her salary increase (along with significant bumps in remuneration for two other department heads) was largely due to an extra pay period in 2009. Really?
ESTPH had over $600,000 parked in guaranteed investment certificates at the end of 2009. If the organization pursues a new building of its own, (as was the case with Grey Bruce Health Unit in Owen Sound, Ont., see below) will this be applied to the cost of new digs? How much long-term debt is ESTPH going to assume, if such is the case?
And here’s the critical question for both councils.
Is it time to contact the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to request an internal review of the organization, as was the case with Grey Bruce Health Unit, which cut registered nursing positions and programs following its move to a new $20 million waterfront building in Owen Sound, dubbed the “copper elephant” by local media?
We voted in this council to ask the tough questions. With the October municipal election looming, we expect the mayor and aldermen to live up to that expectation.

“The best they (BFI Canada) could do for me was to sell me a used green bin that was about one-third the size. They couldn’t guarantee that the gentlemen on the trucks would even deal with that.”
While resident Jill Sheehy, a newcomer to St. Thomas, gets the runaround from city hall and waste contractor BFI in her attempts to obtain a green compost bin, she faces a possible $155 fine as city council considers a crackdown on residents who do not recycle.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to:

2 thoughts on “Search for greener pastures is costing service to community

    Not sure whether you have tongue-in-cheek when you ask “Why aren’t members of council asking questions?” about the dead moose on the table.
    To probe would require members to display a modicum of interest, accept a smidgen of accountability and judiciously attend to our tax-dollars.
    As the journey to locate an appropriate decadently adorned palatial setting for the high-and-mighty unfolds, it is just another reminder of the screaming need for accountability and leadership on council. It’s time to put some of them out to pasture.

    He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~ Chinese Proverb

    Bill Sandison


  2. Bill: Given the amount of money the city doles out to ESTPH each year, the lack of interest shown by council speaks volumes. It’s bad enough Aarts, Johnston and Campbell sit on the board and couldn’t care less about accountability to ratepayers. But the mayor and the rest of council have no desire to hold the feet of board members and Cynthia St. John to the fire. On this issue alone, none of the incumbents warrant the confidence of the electorate in the October municipal vote.


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