The clock is ticking down on the term of what many ratepayers have deemed the most ineffectual council in recent memory.
That may be an overly harsh evaluation — one only has to look at the two councils in power during the lengthy and feisty new arena debate a decade ago — however there is little doubt the individuals who became known as the Barwick Five were no crowd favourites, with the exception of Heather Jackson, voted in for a second term as mayor.
She and Ald. Jeff Kohler are all who remain as a new council is installed next month.
While many voters will surely take credit for the house cleaning at city hall, the reality is the makeover was self-inspired.
Aldermen Dave Warden, Lori Baldwin-Sands and Gord Campbell announced their retirement from municipal politics and aldermen Cliff Barwick and Mark Cosens were the two casualties in the mayoral race with Jackson.
An indisputable fact: the voters did punish Ald. Tom Johnston for his involvement in the Ascent hockey ticket caper.
Now whether you remember this council for its divisiveness over a home for the police service — which ultimately was not a game-changer in last month’s municipal vote — or the dubious fashion in which Barwick returned to city hall, there is a key player now overlooked in the controversy that dogged the final two years of this term.
It was former alderman Sam Yusuf’s departure in April, 2013 that upped the ante in what had already been a deeply fractured council.
To that point, council was evenly split down the middle with Yusuf, Kohler, Cosens and Baldwin-Sands in one camp aligned in opposition to what became the Barwick Five.
Realizing that balance would be thrown off kilter with Yusuf’s departure, it was Cosens who called for a snap vote in April on a motion council “build a new, modern, state-of-the-art police facility” on city-owned property at the Timken Centre, in the expectation it would go down to defeat on a 4-4 vote.
He was out-foxed when all eight members of council voted in opposition, opening the door to reconsideration of the police station decision when Yusuf’s vacant seat was filled by Barwick, whose return was all about balance of power and, ultimately, the construction of that new police headquarters.
Yelp as loud as Kohler, Cosens and Baldwin-Sands could about dirty pool, the process employed to welcome Barwick back to the horseshoe broke no rules. Underhanded yes, but above board according to John Maddox, the city’s closed meeting investigator acting on a formal complaint by Baldwin-Sands.
In his report to council, Maddox concluded, “I have not been able to find any substantive evidence that there in fact was a ‘private’ gathering of any sort that would suggest a closed meeting took place.”
Of note however, Maddox indicated he had received “numerous telephone calls regarding this matter and the process that was followed by council — all of the callers had some degree of objection to the process and outcome.”
Voting 5-3 in favour of Barwick — a result vociferously opposed by many residents — was one of three options available to council under the Ontario Municipal Act.
In December, starting with a relatively clean slate, this new council has to quickly demonstrate it can park egos and personal agendas outside on Talbot St., and get down to the business of improving the lot of St. Thomas residents. In the process heralding a new era in municipal politics in this city.
A 30-YEAR TEMPORARY FIX
The agenda for the final meeting of this council isn’t exactly a fluff piece.
Members will receive a report dealing with the future of the Dalewood Bridge — the 31-year-old Bailey bridge positioned over the Kettle Creek reservoir as a temporary route for Dalewood Dr.
Council will be asked to authorize an expenditure of $92,000 to complete a Class EA study to determine the future needs at the road crossing. The modular bridge was supplied by the provincial transportation ministry in 1983 as a temporary fix under a 20-year lease arrangement, with the city assuming ownership in 2003.
A report to council from city engineer John Dewancker lists possible options: maintain the status quo; a pedestrian-only crossing; a new, two-lane bridge; upgrade/rehabilitate the existing one-lane structure and alternative traffic routes.
Whatever the option chosen by the new council, it could prove a bridge over troubled waters for the new council.
The incoming council, consisting of returnees Jackson and Kohler along with Mark Burgess, Gary Clarke, Joan Rymal, Linda Stevenson, Mark Tinlin and Steve Wookey will be installed at the Dec. 1 council meeting.
The ceremony will be the only order of business that evening as friends and family gather for a small reception afterward.
The first full meeting of council is scheduled for Dec. 8, and CAO Wendell Graves indicated Friday one of the initial orders of business will likely be the determination of how committee chairmen are determined.
In the past, aldermen have voiced their interest in heading a particular department committee, with the top vote-getter being selected as finance chairman.
If that tradition is followed, the honour would fall to Wookey. However his time commitments as a teacher at Central Elgin Collegiate Institute may preclude that possibility, setting up an intriguing determination of who will assume that important position.
Membership on the various city boards and committees will also likely be determined at one of the final two meetings of the year, according to Graves.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“What do I remember mostly about the war? That I lived long enough to enjoy the freedom I’ve got right now.”
Valleyview Home resident, 94-year-old Robert Murray, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy as a wireless operator during the Second World.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.