2010 St. Thomas municipal election candidates respond to reader’s questions


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City Scope encourages St. Thomas residents to submit questions for which they would like responses from mayoral/aldermanic candidates. First out of the gate was T-J reader Ann Bigelow with the following questions.

1) Are you in favour of a tax cut/freeze?

2) If there is a tax cut/freeze, what are the top three services to St. Thomas residents you feel should be reduced?

3) Does St. Thomas need a CAO? Why or why not?

4) Are you in favour of a ward system?

5) Can you recognize your own credit card in your wallet?

6) What makes you qualified to make decisions about the spending of taxpayer dollars and the level of service we receive?

7) What will you do to ensure taxpayers are consulted and their opinions are valued in making decisions?

8) Please describe a time when you demonstrated honesty, accountability, leadership, transparent decision-making, skills at dealing with difficult people, great communication, your commitment to something, long term decision making, etc., and what you did and what you learned from the situation.

First to respond was aldermanic candidate Wayne Northcott, and his answers follow.

I would like to thank Ann for her questions and would encourage more individuals to forward their questions to north.cott.2@gmail.com. I will host a MEET AND GREET on Saturday, September 11, 2010 from 1 to 3 pm at Trillium House Fine Art Gallery. All are welcome.


TAX CUT/FREEZE Within the next 4 years, it would be unlikely a tax cut or freeze would be a responsible course of action. I would not try to suggest any promises to this end. There are severe financial challenges to come within this timeframe. Some of these challenges included mandated costs from the province, social benefits, police, fire, EMS services, water, hydro, sewage treatment, waste management and expansion plans of the hospital, courthouse, library and police facilities to name a few. In view of the reduction in tax revenues and transfer payments and grants, municipal councils will be irresponsible if tax cuts or freezes were imposed.

IF TAX CUTS WHERE WHAT 3 SERVICES WOULD THEY AFFECT. Not applicable as asked.

CAO POSITION The present system of municipal governance in St. Thomas has many advantages and is my preferred choice. Recreating the position of CAO would not be cost effective nor would it create better governance. Having a Board of Management system creates more accountability from the aldermen and keeps them well abreast of the issues within their committees.

WARD SYSTEM St. Thomas would not benefit from a ward system. Again the costs do not appear to justify its introduction. As well, at first glance the hope of better representation can easily be tainted by competitiveness among alderman who supports their own area to the detriment of the whole city. A ward system also has the potential to decrease civic/voter participation.

CREDIT CARDS Yes.

SPENDING TAX PAYERS MONEY QUALIFICATIONS Firstly, it is necessary to be elected to municipal office before any opportunity to direct policies and decisions regarding spending of ratepayers taxes can occur. As a candidate, I have a proven record of dealing with taxpayers funds. I have been involved in various not for profit organizations that received taxpayers funds. One example occurred while I was a manager in a social service agency. I was responsible for a budget approximating $500,000 in program resources, services, facilities, salaries and transportation systems over a period of 5 years. During this time each area I controlled was always on budget.

TAXPAYERS CONSULTATIONS A major component of my platform is to develop and implement better and effective ways in which the general public can become involved in community planning and enrichment. From personal experience as a consultant and program facilitator, empowering the various stakeholders and interest groups is a very effective process in which to deliver programs and services to the general public. I would like to see frequent community planning forums/opportunities which promotes and fosters a stronger relationship with the general community. From my own personal experience in dealing with some formal quasi municipal groups, the level of involvement, opportunity to ask questions and the level of encouragement to include members of the public were poor. This needs to change.

DEMONSTRATED SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES It is understandable that ratepayers want to know as much about a municipal candidate as possible to decide if they can be trusted and relied upon. Come to my Meet and Greet for more information. To many I may be an unknown, but I have a proven career as a business consultant, business owner, entrepreneur, not for profit executive, employment service developer and much more. My education, work and community background is extensive and well rounded. I have worked with a diversity of groups including youth, first nations, special needs, seniors and those with other special interests. I have a quiet leadership and communication style that fosters trust. Many times I have acted as a facilitator to assist members of our community to develop their goals and objectives towards new initiatives. During the last major downturn in the economy in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, I was well involved in many strategies to develop education, training, employment, literacy programs and related services to assist many groups and individuals to return to gainful employment. At this time I was involved with Fanshawe College, the Elgin Training Council, COPE (the unemployed help centre) and the Council for Adult Education and so on. In the present economic situation I believe my experience and demonstrated skills will be necessary to lead our community to a better future.

Response from Ald. David Warden

1. Tax cuts or “freeze” are difficult, without cutting services, and because of existing employee contracts.

2. Would not cut services without public input.

3. CAO – yes, it is in the best interest of the ratepayer, staff and council.

4. NO to ward system, creating pocket politics, in house fighting for tax dollars, Alderman become more concerned with their own ward, rather than the overall well being of the City.

5. Yes I can recognize the difference in credit cards.

6. What makes me qualified to make decisions about spending of taxpayers money? … 20 years experience as an elected official.

7. My years of experience have taught me to “listen” first, then to act.

8. Accountability and Leadership When I put forward the notice of motion to get rid of City Credit Cards, my long term commitment as Chairperson of the new Police Headquarters, and to see it through to its completion, I have never shied away from voicing my opinion, and putting forth my views.

Next up is aldermanic candidate Bill Sandison.

I called Ann Bigelow on Monday, August 9th after reading the article but we have not as yet spoken. As I posted earlier on City Scope, I welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss these questions and any others that may come forward.
I am available to meet individually or in groups and can be reached at 519-207-0819.

Are you in favour of a tax cut/ freeze?
While it is a reasonable goal, it is difficult to know if a tax freeze or cut is achievable.
By any measure of reasonable comparison the taxes in St. Thomas are too high. Taxes are higher here than neighbouring communities; 3% higher than London and 9% higher than Stratford. It is worth noting that Central Elgin was able to reduce their taxes slightly for 2010.
In February 2008, I presented to council some suggestions on how we might improve upon the process to provide a better outcome for the residents and businesses in our city, including the adoption of a zero-based budget process.

If there is a tax cut/freeze, what are the top three services to St. Thomas residents you feel should be reduced?
We need to reduce costs; we do not need to reduce services.

Does St. Thomas need a CAO? Why or why not?
Yes
The attempt at management by committee with a part-time mayor has proven to be costly and ineffective, as witnessed being shut out of the first round of infrastructure funding. It has blurred the lines of responsibility and detrimentally affected the financial health of our city. There are clear differences between administration and council, and when you attempt to combine the role of chief administrative officer and mayor, both roles suffer.
We need a chief administration officer as part of an effective governance structure to manage the $90 million budget for St. Thomas. The attracted cost associated with this position will be more than offset by the resultant benefits to the city. As one current alderman commented to me about the problems we’re experiencing, “Things are not going to change until there is someone in charge at City Hall”.
There are ten communities in Ontario with a population in the 30,000 to 45,000 range including Woodstock, Stratford and St. Thomas; nine of the ten have a CAO.

Are you in favour of a ward system?
Yes
The current at-large system used to elect aldermen does not provide equal and effective representation and further, it favors the incumbents by ensuring the elector’s vote is diluted. Here is the impact of voter dilution; last election twenty-three (23) candidates ran for the seven (7) alderman seats on council. The current aldermen on council received a combined total of 26,997 votes while 28,400 votes were cast against them; the elected council received less than half of the votes cast.
A ward system would give St. Thomas residents effective representation by ensuring that every area of our city receives equal representation on council and their vote would carry more weight in the determination of who gets elected. The ward system makes alderman more accountable, provides diversity of opinion on council and encourages higher voter turnout.
Last December, I proposed to council that they consult with voters by placing a question on the general election ballot at the upcoming election to be held October 25th, 2010;
Council is seeking the opinion of the electors regarding whether or not they favour a change in the existing “at large” system of electing Aldermen to a system whereby Aldermen would be elected by wards (neighbourhood constituencies).
Yes ( ) No ( )
Council has elected not to consult with the residents.

Can you recognize your own credit card in your wallet?
Yes.

What makes you qualified to make decisions about the spending of taxpayer dollars and the level of service we receive?
The combination of experience and education allows me to bring a set of skills to council necessary to effectively make decisions regarding finance and service.
I retired from Nortel Networks in August 2007 after 36 years of service; working in London, Belleville, Calgary and home-based in St. Thomas. During my management career with Nortel Networks, I had a track record of business process improvement, commitment and financial contribution spanning various roles with ever-increasing responsibilities across supply chain management, strategic planning, project management, materials management, customer service operations and manufacturing operations. I was responsible and accountable for the financial performance of each of these areas including the management of a $350 million budget.
I completed my Master of Business Administration at Queens University, am a Certified Purchasing Professional (C.P.P.) designation with the Purchasing Management Association of Canada, and am Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) designation with APICS, the Association for Operations Management.

What will you do to ensure taxpayers are consulted and their opinions are valued in making decisions?
The two main changes that I have proposed are a participatory budget process and town hall/bear pit sessions to give taxpayers the opportunity for inclusion in the matters affecting their city and to provide feedback to those they elected to council.
A participatory budget process would solicit input and ideas from taxpayers on how we might make improvements and help identify the key priorities. The consultation should be formally scheduled as part of budget setting to allow the various departments time to examine the ideas that come forward to determine if they have merit.
The town hall or ‘bear pit’ sessions would be held to provide an opportunity for me to be directly accountable to the residents in St. Thomas who elected me, and facilitate an open exchange of opinions and sharing of information. I propose to hold three sessions each year either individually or with other members of council should they wish to participate.

Please describe a time when you demonstrated honesty, accountability, leadership, transparent decision-making, skills at dealing with difficult people, great communication, your commitment to something, long-term decision making, etc., and what you did and what you learned from the situation.
In business, the example that comes to mind is the contract negotiations between Nortel Networks and the Canadian Auto Workers. All of the attributes you identify are in play as you work through an entire collective agreement; you will not be successful unless you are equipped and skilled in those areas. As the operations management representative for the Belleville location we negotiated major improvements to the mutual benefit of both parties in a three year collective agreement, without any work disruption.
The key learning from this experience; perceptions and emotions can be more powerful that facts but with patience and perseverance, no obstacle is too great to overcome.
__________________________________________________________
Reader Nancy Mayberry submitted the following questions dealing with the city’s heritage track record.

1) Do you think there is adequate protection for built heritage in St. Thomas? Do you think the balance is tilted to protection or destruction of heritage buildings?

2) How will you balance development pressures against the need to preserve our history, particularly its archaeological and heritage structures? Would you encourage the adaptive reuse of our heritage schools and their playgrounds or sell them to developers as was done with the railway lands and the CASO Trans-Canada trail through the city?

3) Do you think the city’s built and natural heritage features are adequately identified, and adequately protected? If not, what do you think should be done to improve the situation?

4) Would you change how heritage in St. Thomas is protected? If so, how?

5) What do you think is the single most important action municipal government could undertake to encourage heritage preservation in St. Thomas?

Aldermanic candidate Bill Sandison responds in the following fashion.

Do you think there is adequate protection for built heritage in St. Thomas? Do you think the balance is tilted to protection or destruction of heritage buildings?
There is neither adequate protection nor the political will on council to protect and support our heritage buildings, worse yet they vote to demolish them.

How will you balance development pressures against the need to preserve our history, particularly its archaeological and heritage structures? Would you encourage the adaptive reuse of our heritage schools and their playgrounds or sell them to developers as was done with the railway lands and the CASO Trans-Canada trail through the city.
I do not view development and preservation as mutually exclusive, and a great example of what can be done is the restoration of the Canada Southern Railway Station and the business plan that will see tenants in place to support its ongoing operation. When complete it will be a centrepiece of our railway heritage.
We need to foster partnerships to secure our heritage and adaptive reuse is a viable option. It will not be possible, nor is it realistic to expect that heritage can be preserved from municipal coffers; so private and public partnerships coupled with provincial and federal support are essential to preserve our heritage.

Do you think the city’s built and natural heritage features are adequately identified, and adequately protected? If not, what do you think should be done to improve the situation?
While there is an index of designated heritage properties on the City`s website, I am not sure how often it is updated; among the 22 properties listed, Alma College is still a designated heritage property complete with a full photograph prior to its destruction on May 28th, 2008.
We are fortunate in St. Thomas to have a Municipal Heritage Committee and the St. Thomas-Elgin Chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario which was established in April 2009, in part “to preserve buildings and structures of architectural merit and places of natural beauty and interest”. Working with these two groups we should update and maintain a catalogue of the entire city’s designated heritage properties.
Heritage properties are not adequately protected; case in point, Alma College. Improvements are identified in answer to the next question.

Would you change how heritage in St. Thomas is protected? If so, how?
Changes to the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) permit municipalities to develop minimum property standards for properties designated under Part IV or V of the Act. I would propose a separate Heritage Property Standards, similar the one developed by the City of Hamilton, including public consultation before a by-law is established. Coupled with existing Property Standards I want to see proactive enforcement of these rather than the current complaint driven process.
We should consider incentives to encourage owners to maintain their heritage properties, as defined by the OHA, either through a grant similar to the Community Improvement Program (CIP) or an interest free loan to a defined limit for restoration of heritage attributes.

What do you think is the single most important action municipal government could undertake to encourage heritage preservation in St. Thomas?
Establish and enforce Heritage Property Standards.

Response forwarded from Ald. Dave Warden

In Answer to Nancy Mayberry’s Questions.

Do you think there is adequate protection for built heritage in St. Thomas? Do you think the balance is tilted to protection or destruction of heritage buildings?

The question of Heritage Buildings is a Provincial matter in regards to protection. The real question is?, should the Municipal taxpayer be responsible for privately owned heritage buildings?

How will you balance development pressures against the need to preserve our history, particularly its archaeological and heritage structures? Would you encourage the adaptive reuse of our heritage schools and their playgrounds or sell them to developers as was done with the railway lands and the CASO Trans-Canada trail through the city?

I feel it is important to preserve Heritage, but the real question becomes.. at what cost and who pays for it?

Do you think the city’s built and natural heritage features are adequately identified, and adequately protected? If not, what do you think should be done to improve the situation?

A better job could be done identifying natural heritage features. Once again in regards to protection it becomes a question of ownership, and the responsibility that comes with that ownership.

Once again the bigger question in regards to Heritage.. who is the governing body that is ultimately responsible for Heritage Buildings.. this must be clearly identified before any action is taken.

Answers provided by Wayne Northcott

The questions asked by Nancy Mayberry can generally be covered by the provision of the Ontario Heritage Act which creates and governs Municipal Heritage Committees. Each of these Acts can be found on the Ontario Heritage Act website. The City of St. Thomas has an appointed Municipal Heritage Committee. Several years ago this committee was called LACAC (Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee. I was a member of this committee in the late 1980’s. This experience was very insightful.

Adequate Protection for built heritage in St. Thomas
After reviewing the role and responsibilities of the Municipal Heritage Committee, it would suggest that there are adequate means of protection for built heritage in St. Thomas. Each cases needs to review on its merit and a case made to protect a particular site. Each heritage committee must have community consultations to help in its review of a site and to make recommendations to municipal council. Council can then debate the issue and make decisions. Over and above this process, demolition and building permits are governed under the Building Code Act. It is the municipalities’ responsibility to issue these permits. This may be an extra measure of control over a heritage site.

Balance between preserving history vs. developers.
Without a doubt we, as a community need to do more to let people know what is important to us and what we value in terms of preserving our history, heritage and culture. Presently, for the most part existing owners, prospective buyers and the general community are focused on the cost, return on investment and speed of development. We need to put a greater value on our heritage. Each of us has to known what we can do to help preserve our heritage and culture without placing all the reliance on governmental agencies and municipalities.

At present, Wellington Street Public School has a heritage designation. It will be preserved as part of the Courthouse restoration. Its land use will be changed to a parking lot, but the building will be adapted for law offices and related activities. Interest has been expressed by a community group to use the lower level for its activities but is on hold until the school is actually sold to the City. The other schools are presently being offered for public sale. These schools can be adapted to alternative uses and should be encouraged. It a site is historically important the community consultation and heritage committee should be consulted and its process followed.

The railway lands were not owned by the City of St. Thomas, hence they were not sold to developers by the city. I can’t give a clear answer as to what happened in this case. It appears that the process to divest railway land is complicated and governed by some federal regulations. Our community may have had an opportunity to be a party to the sale of these lands but to what extend I have limited facts from which to form an opinion. The CASO trail is a recent development and may not be considered for heritage designation but perhaps may fall under a recreational trail. It appears the land was not owned by the city. However, if it can be maintained it should be supported as an alternative for a bike route, walking, etc trail.

Identification and Protection of Heritage Sites
From my time with LACAC the group was well involved in listing and describing various sites throughout St. Thomas. A review of the city’s website shows several current sites which have been designated. It is my hope that a thorough review of our heritage and cultural sites would be a great opportunity to identify and perhaps rank the sites that are most significant and why. I am aware of many publications that identify the history of our community and some of its buildings and people. The process identified through the Municipal Heritage Committee should be adequate to protect significant sites.

Change How Heritage is Protected
Much of the existing legislation governing heritage and culturally significant sites are generally in the realm of provincial and federal jurisdiction. Municipalities rely on their heritage committee and community consultations to regulate significant sites through the Building Code Act, among others. The most important change that would make a different is the way funding could be access or provided to help preserve heritage. Preservation and restoration is expensive and time consuming. Again we shouldn’t rely solely on governmental funding. A community needs to plan and be involved well in advance of a potential change of ownership or threat to a significant site. Last minute crisis scenarios are ill advised.

What More Can Municipalities Do
The most important way of preserving a community’s heritage and cultural assets is to create a Heritage Planning Strategy. Through community consultations the Municipal Heritage Committee should develop long and short terms goals to create an organized strategy for preserving significant sites. Education can be an important tool to increase awareness, increase the importance and value to individuals, owners and prospective investors. Funding strategies should be develop to first access new sources of funding, or develop incentives for investors to become involved in historic site with an identified Return on Investment.(ROI).

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