A loss in the courtroom, a positive outcome at the polls


He was the central figure in one of the shabbiest chapters in this city’s political history.
Days prior to the 2010 municipal election, David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building, announced he was suing the City of St. Thomas, former mayor Cliff Barwick, St. Thomas police and other defendants for $3 million.
    At the time, McGee insisted his motive was not political — even though he sent out a press release and employed an automated phone dialer to leave voice mail messages for St. Thomas households.

Sutherland Press building in 2008, prior to partial demolition of front face

He also hired PR consultant Suzanne van Bommel, a local political strategist.
   In a 32-page statement of claim, McGee and Sutherland Lofts Inc., were suing for punitive damages and aggravated damages, as well as “mental distress, economic interference and, specifically, loss of income” for what the claim states was “unnecessary demolition” in July 2008.
Well, Justice L.C. Leitch handed down a decision just prior to Christmas.

As to the matter of whether the claim of Sutherland Lofts Inc., be stayed or dismissed on the ground that it was without legal capacity to commence the action, Justice Leitch determined the claim must be dismissed because the limitation period had expired.

On the second matter of McGee’s personal statement of claim dealing with the abuse of public office, Justice Leitch determined “the pleadings respecting Mr. McGee’s claim are struck, with leave to amend within 60 days,” of the decision date of Dec. 21, 2011.
The amendments are strictly limited to potential interference with McGee’s other economic interests; negligent infliction of mental distress and pain and suffering; and possible conspiracy.
McGee and company were winners in one regard. The Sutherland distraction was a substantial factor in removing Barwick from the mayor’s office.

This week’s highlight quote below was culled from the city/county confab held Wednesday in which elected officials and administrative staff gathered to chart a course for this year and beyond.
As expected, St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital’s revitalization plan dominated discussions. Specifically, the need for the hospital foundation to raise $12 million as required by the province when the green light for the project was announced last fall.
The foundation will have to approach both the city and county in the near future to formally request financial support, and in anticipation of that call, a joint ad hoc committee will be struck to address the matter.
It wasn’t that long ago that the hospital board of directors, at the height of the contract controversy with CEO Paul Collins, told St. Thomas and Elgin to butt out and mind your own business.
And, the group of politicos gathered this week have long memories, albeit with a sensitivity to the future needs of the hospital.
The lingering hostility toward Collins and board chairman Bruce Babcock is evident in some of the these observations.
“There is a widening gap between civic administration and the hospital,” noted Ald. Gord Campbell, who added: “We don’t have to just give them a blank cheque.”
“We need to talk about the governance issue, how people are elected to the hospital board,” said Ald. Jeff Kohler.
And finally, from Elgin County Warden Bill Walters: “The ask (to councils) by the hospital foundation is one thing, our contribution is another thing.”
Do you get a feel for the bitterness that still hangs heavy in the minds of some of our municipal reps?
However, with the dawning of the new year, there is a hint of hope.
As noted in this corner last year, we are witnessing a new era of transparency and accountability at STEGH.

Picking up on that last thought, City Scope is seeking clarification on the spending habits of hospital administration, as documented in the semi-annual executive spending account summary for 2011now available to the public.
For example, Babcock and his board of directors appear to spend anywhere from $5.78 to $384.62 on “hospitality” at their meetings. Awfully expensive cheese and crackers.
Babcock, or one of the board members, spent $375 on “hospitality” at a golf tournament last July in Sarnia.
At that same tourney, Collins dropped a similar $375. He also submitted a mileage claim for $228.88 to attend a board meeting in Woodstock.
How about VP Nancy Whitmore, who claimed a cool $5,000 exactly to attend a conference in July. We’ve now been told that is a “reporting error” and is actually an educational stipend.
A call to the hospital Friday to garner specific details on these and many other expenses directed this corner to apply through Freedom of Information.
We will.

“There are two issues. There is the greedy double-dipping by the hospital board and then, the need for the hospital foundation to raise the money the hospital will need.”
Ald. Gord Campbell, as is his want from time to time, pulls no punches when stripping the wheat from the chaff in the resign/rehire saga of hospital CEO Paul Collins.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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