A quotation for everything: the past year in review


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It’s been a City Scope tradition to greet the incoming year by surveying the past 365 days to savor the wit and wisdom of our elected representatives.

As a collector of quotes from a variety of sources, it lends credence to the words of wisdom from British author Dorothy L. Sayers: “I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”

Of course, when media scribes document a response or comment to the pages for posterity, we must be prepared for the inevitable charge of being taken out of context.

Or, as one anonymous wag noted, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.”

With the preamble out of the way, let’s glean through a year’s worth of columns to fully appreciate what transpired in 2012.
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There are no secrets, police HQ contamination a given


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We devoted space in this corner last week to city council’s approval of a $24,000 expenditure to complete the Phase 2 environmental assessment underway at the Colin McGregor Justice Building, home of the St. Thomas Police Service.
A couple of days later the Times-Journal ran a photo of the coal gasification plant previously housed on the site and accompanied it with the cheeky headline, “City’s dirty little secret coming out.”
The story prompted a lengthy discussion Thursday with Ald. Mark Cosens, an outspoken proponent of refurbishing the justice building, in lieu of construction of a new police headquarters on city-owned land at the Timken Centre.
Cosens concedes the results of the study are pretty much a foregone conclusion – it won’t be a pretty picture – but that in itself should not preclude proceeding with upgrades to the existing police headquarters.
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The meter keeps ticking to maintain the status quo


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A supplementary item St. Thomas council will deal with Monday leaves the distinct impression we are going to be slowly nickle-and-dimed to death while some aldermen press their case to rehabilitate the existing police headquarters in the Colin McGregor Justice Building.
To wit, a report from John Dewancker, director of environmental services, requesting $24,000 in additional funding to complete the Phase 2 environmental site assessment at 30 St. Catherine St.
The work is being undertaken at the request of those members of council who would rather pump money into a toxic site, rather than construct a new facility on land the city has already purchased for that purpose.
To date, the environmental assessment, undertaken by Conestoga Rovers, indicates soil samples from the northern portion of the property exceed Ministry of the Environment standards for benzene, lead and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination.
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New skate park on the horizon, but it comes with a hefty price tag


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Listen up skateboarders, city council will be dealing with a proposed new park when it sits Monday at city hall. At that time it will receive the findings of the select skate board park committee, authorized by council in April and which held its first meeting in July.
The committee is proposing three locations for consideration: Joanne Brooks Memorial Park on the former site of Northside Arena; Jonas Park on Jonas Street; and a one-acre parcel of land northeast of the Timken Centre.
Let’s look closer at these sites.
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A case of the health minister calling the kettle black


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Now that the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Foundation has made its financial pitch to St. Thomas and Elgin county, both councils – via membership on the municipal joint committee – have compiled a list of questions designed to shake loose answers from the less-than-accommodating hospital administration.
And, the joint committee has invited – no, make that requested – Paul Bode, chairman of the STEGH board of governors, and Susan O’Brien, foundation president and chairman, attend their next meeting on Wednesday.

STEGH redevelopment sketch

STEGH redevelopment sketch


In a letter to Bode and O’Brien, dated Nov. 22, the joint committee acknowledges the hospital is a valuable community resource.
However, “we are confident that you are aware of our own municipal budgetary challenges and the fact that we must be fully accountable for taxation expenditures to those we serve,” the communication advises.
As such, the committee would like answers and information that includes:
■ Specific project costs for the redevelopment costs.
■ Is there a written, binding commitment from the province to finance the re-scoped project?
■ The province is requiring 100% of the equipment for the mental health component, representing $2.5 million, be funded locally. Why has the onus for this component of the project shifted from the province to the local jurisdiction, and where in policy or regulation is this new requirement contained?
■ The total cost of the re-scoped project is $70 million (City Scope still believes it is less than $50 million) – a reduction of about 25%, so why is the amount to be raised by the city and council still pegged at $9 million? The committee would like specific rationale why the municipal contribution is not adjusted relevant to the reduction of the overall costs.
■ And, what about infrastructure costs (roads, sewers, watermains etc.) associated with redevelopment of the hospital? Has any allowance been made for these costs?
All good questions, the answers to some of these we have previously championed in this corner.
It all comes down to transparency and jettisoning the attitude the city and county should endorse the cheques and then just go away.

DUELING DIPLOMATICOS
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek has valid concerns about how much the community must contribute to the hospital redevelopment fund and is seeking a meeting with the health ministry to sort things out.
Health Minister Deb Matthews fires back it’s time Yurek got on board with the project, and for good measure adds, “I know his party would not be building it.”
Whoa there Deb, let’s hit the pause button.
Who camped out on the front steps of the hospital just weeks in advance of the 2011 provincial vote and promised the Cadillac version of redevelopment for the facility.
And then insisted this announcement was politically transparent, in spite of the timing.
However, when Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands couldn’t keep up her end of the bargain and failed to deliver the riding, somehow the project becomes the subject of a re-scoping process.
The result – we get a stripped-down compact model and the community is saddled with the Cadillac sticker price.
So, who really needs to wholeheartedly get behind the project? More so in light of the questions listed and information sought in the opening item of this week’s column.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Sheesh.

DWINDLING DIVIDEND
Up near the front of Monday’s city council agenda is treasurer Bill Day’s budget monitoring report up to Sept. 30 of this year. Day is predicting a budget surplus of $300,000, which is not bad, but a far cry from the $1 million-plus years.
Of interest, however, is the notation from Day the 2012 dividend from Ascent Group Inc. (formerly St. Thomas Energy Inc.) has been cut in half to $250,000.
What’s the deal here?
For an operation touted in the past by former CEO Brian Hollywood and former board chairman Ald. Tom Johnston as having such a rosy future, this is rather disturbing news for the real shareholders – city ratepayers.
Sheds a little more light, perhaps, on why neither of the above individuals remains in place.
With a seemingly bleak financial picture this year at Ascent, it casts further doubt on the rationale behind greasing Ald. Johnston’s palm with Red Wings’ season tickets.
In addition to the small matter such compensation is in violation of a city bylaw.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s time for Jeff Yurek to get behind the project. I know that his party would not be building it. They have been very clear that this is not the time to be investing in capital projects, but we are.”
In their on-going war of words, health minister Deb Matthews says its time for Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek to get behind the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital redevelopment project instead of peppering her with questions.

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