Derelict building a reminder of dirty politics


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Contained in Monday’s agenda was a petition expressing concerns about the derelict building at 80 St. Catherine St., a structure referred to as “a dangerous eyesore.”
Area resident Sally Nickson was allowed to address council in an effort to paint a picture of the five-unit apartment building that has stood vacant for over a year.
As is often the case, there is more to this story than meets the eye.
And, the leading characters in this saga appeared prominently in this corner two weeks ago.
As best as we can determine, the crumbling structure may very well be owned by none other than David McGee. You may know him as the absentee owner of the equally forlorn Sutherland Press building.
Several attempts this week to contact McGee to confirm his involvement – or lack thereof – proved fruitless.
McGee was also a principal figure in the 2010 municipal vote through his orchestration of what can only be called a smear campaign – a truly tainted chapter in the city’s political history.
To set the stage, days before the October trek to the polls, McGee launched a $3 million lawsuit against the city, then mayor Cliff Barwick, St. Thomas Police and others 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” of the Sutherland Press building in July, 2008.
The demolition resulted in a lengthy closure of Talbot Street – a factor Mark Cosens cited as key to the closure of the Capitol Theatre, which he owned at the time, and subsequently led to his inability to repay a $40,000 city loan.
Cosens was head of the Downtown Development Board at the time and we have previously referred to his 2008 dust-up with Mayor Barwick, precipitated by Cosens’ observation the city should not have closed down part of Talbot Street due to safety concerns over the Sutherland Press building.
Fast forward to the October, 2010 election and, in addition to his lawsuit, McGee hired public relations consultant Suzanne Van Bommel to fire out a press release and employ robocalls to advise voters of Barwick’s supposed disdain for built heritage.
A vindictive election ad was rejected by the Times-Journal on the advice of its legal counsel.
The lawsuit was front-page news in the T-J and a study of advance polling numbers appeared to indicate the robocalls played a significant role in Barwick’s demise at the ballot box.
And, through all of this, McGee insisted the timing of his lawsuit was mere coincidence.
“This is not a political issue,” McGee deadpanned at the time.
And where do we stand today?
The lawsuit was turfed, his vision for the Sutherland Press building evaporated and the edifice hovers as a pitiful reminder of how dirty a game politics can be.
Maybe that is why Ald. Cosens remained silent following Sally Nickson’s deputation.

ONE TO WATCH

It garnered little in the way of debate Monday, however Elizabeth Sebestyen’s proposal for a new domiciliary hostel delivery system will have far-reaching implications.
Sebestyen, who does yeoman service over at St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works, obtained council approval to host a mayor’s summit before the end of November to establish community-wide standards of care for domiciliary hostels – unregulated residences in St. Thomas that provide board or lodging for vulnerable individuals who need supervision of their daily living activities.
They are an alternative to institutional care.
In addition, Sebestyen is proposing the city subcontract all aspects of intake, assessment, placement, resident subsidies and monitoring to a third party.
At stake here is a domiciliary hostel like Tara Hall, which currently is on a month-to-month contract with the city until general standards of care are agreed upon.
Sebestyn is not only calling for third-party delivery of service, but allowing residents to select where they would like to live from a variety of hostels or care homes.
And, that all hostel beds, whether regulated or not, comply with minimum standards of care.
Currently, the city’s share of providing supported housing is $54,000 annually.
Ald. Jeff Kohler made it known the Tara Hall situation has been discussed behind closed doors and the nature of those deliberations can’t be brought out into open session, even though he broached the subject Monday.
So, what is council negotiating with Tara Hall owner Jim Akey?
And will the wheeling and dealing mesh with Sebestyen’s vision of minimum standards of care?

SHARPENING THE SCISSORS
Stand down.
We won’t see an increase in the size of city council any time soon.
Ald. David Warden’s motion earlier this summer calling for an additional elected representative in the council chamber, to take effect for the 2014 provincial vote, has been wiped off the slate.
Council this week acted upon Warden’s concerns and began clearing off some of the dead wood with regard to council appointments and standing committees, a time-consuming function of council that often produced little in the way of viable returns.
One casualty is the select aquatics facilities committee – the brainchild of Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands. Sorry, this is exactly the type of resource-sapping assemblage that prompted Warden’s motion.
And so was the select outdoor road hockey facility committee. It used to be a road hockey facility was called a parking lot.
In total, council chopped 14 committees in this week’s pruning.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We’re hiring a consultant to hire consultants.”
The observation of Ald. David Warden during Monday’s lengthy debate on hiring an $80,000 a year special-projects engineer to help clear off a backlog of previously approved capital projects in the environmental services department.

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

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2 thoughts on “Derelict building a reminder of dirty politics

  1. It’s about time St.Thomas City Council started downsizing. How much money (rhetorical) has been wasted on useless committees & consultants. ENOUGH already!
    Keep up the good work Ian.

  2. 80 k for a consultant since the Director and Manager of Engineering who is suppose to do this work are useless. Would have been better to use that money to fire them and hire people who actually do their job. Or better yet, take the money they have not spent and reduce taxes!!

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