Thank goodness they only lost some money


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It seems like just yesterday that Ald. Gord Campbell made this observation regarding Ascent, formerly St. Thomas Holdings Inc.
“I can’t support this recommendation. St. Thomas Holdings had a difficult year, lost some money.”
Campbell was referring to a council vote a month or so ago on whether the Ascent board of directors should receive a hike in remuneration. Board members currently receive in the neighbourhood of $8,500 for attending 10 or so meetings a year and then chairman, Ald. Tom Johnston, was seeking an unspecified increase in that compensation.
Thankfully, council was united in deep-sixing the motion.
But, when Campbell notes they “lost some money,” how much might that be?
Lots.

While Ascent stands firm on not releasing anything in the way of financial details, it’s all right there in black and white in the 2011 consolidated financial statement contained in Monday’s council agenda.
The city owns 100% of St. Thomas Holdings Inc., which generated $77,589,877 in revenues last year. Trouble is, operating expenses rang in at $78,516,307, resulting in a net loss of $926,430.
That’s a bit more than losing some money.
Especially when you take into account St. Thomas Holdings Inc. generated a profit of $584,501 in 2010.
That’s a swing of more than $1.5 million.
Sounds more like bleeding than a drop in the bucket.
Keep in mind the organization has no competition, so you have to wonder at the value of some of the acquisitions made in the past few years.
On behalf of city ratepayers, the ultimate shareholders in St. Thomas Holdings Inc./Ascent, it’s time for members of council to start asking questions.
We got the ball rolling by contacting the city’s finance chairman, Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands, to ask if this presents a concern.
She initially chose to defer in adroit fashion.
“That question should be posed to the representatives on council who are the representatives on the Ascent board.”
As finance chairman, Ald. Sands, do you have concerns and will you address them at Monday’s council meeting?
“Do I have concerns, the answer is ‘yes’. The issues I will raise with council and the energy board will be done under proper procedures.”
Well, that answers that question, I guess.

SUBJECT TO A SKILL-TESTING QUESTION
While not listed on Monday’s council agenda, there’s a good bet members will discuss – likely in closed session – the matter of who will represent the city on the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital board of governors.
If you recall, the city’s previous rep, Ald. Sam Yusuf, was not confirmed by the board at the annual general meeting on June 5, thus leaving a vacancy.
No doubt the thumbs down on Yusuf will not sit well with Mayor Heather Jackson and Elgin county Warden Bill Walters, neither of who has had a warm and fuzzy relationship of late with hospital CEO Paul Collins.
Aggravating the situation is a letter sent to Jackson two days after the AGM in which Collins pointed out the city’s nominee for appointment “will be subject to Board interview and an assessment against the Board’s skills based matrix prior to acceptance to the board.”
Collins’ correspondence continues: “All board members are expected to maintain confidentiality and to fulfill their fiduciary obligation to always act in the best interest of the hospital.”
Well that presents a bit of a conundrum. If the city’s representative is a member of municipal council, should that person’s obligation not be to St. Thomas ratepayers?
Is that why the county appointed former Central Elgin mayor Tom Marks as its non-elected rep at the hospital board to avoid a potential conflict of interest?
Let’s be honest, which member of city council wants to subject them self to “the Board’s skills based matrix?”

A TOUCH OF CLASS
We’ve never met the mayor of Chatham-Kent however, based on his comments in the T-J earlier this week, he sounds like one classy guy.
You see, Chatham-Kent was the grand prize winner of the President’s Choice BBQTown Tour and will get a 5,000 person barbecue, live concert and a $25,000 donation to a community nutrition program.
St. Thomas earned a runner-up prize of a free barbecue this summer for 2,000 people. Not bad at all.
Mayor Randy Hope could have gloated at his good fortune, but instead he tipped his hat to St. Thomas.
“It’s great. I mean, from our community’s perspective, it’s good to see that the community is pulling together to identify itself as the Chatham-Kent region.”
He noted the similarities between the two communities in an economic sense.
“I just want to say what’s really nice to hear is St. Thomas. It’s good for a profile for our communities and it shows our people are behind us. Now, people are going to hear about St. Thomas, people are going to hear about Chatham-Kent in a broader context.”
Nice touch.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Personal opinion, I would say 50-50. I can’t follow the thought pattern of this government.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek’s prediction on whether Premier Dalton McGuinty will call a snap election for next month.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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