Coincidence or symptomatic of deeper problems at city hall? Two cases of fraudulent health claims filed by a former city employee and a current member of the St. Thomas Police Service in a matter of months.
Two weeks ago in a tribunal held at city hall, Const. Aaron Fraser pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct and deceit under the Police Services Act and was demoted to second-class constable for one year with a loss of $12,500 in salary.
The charges under the Police Act stem from six fraudulent health claims for massage therapy filed electronically with Manulife, totaling $353, but never rendered.
And on Friday, a release from city police advising Amanda Graham, a former bylaw enforcement officer at the animal shelter, has been arrested and charged with one count of fraud over $5,000 and seven counts of uttering a forged document.
These charges haven’t yet been proven in court and she will make her first appearance later this month.
They date back to June 2013 and the submission of false claims continued for 13 months.
Will two instances of fraudulent claims in a relatively short period of time negatively impact the city’s relationship with Manulife Insurance, its benefits provider?
“It’s not going to significantly impact on our premiums in of itself,” advised Graham Dart, the city’s director of human resources.
“Our benefit costs are almost $3 million for out total benefits package. The biggest impact is that the money was paid out that shouldn’t have been paid out. On principal, it does impact on our premiums because our premiums are weighed against our usage. It’s an insurance company and they’re not in business to lose money.”
Taking it one step further, will it put the corporation under greater scrutiny?
“It does put a greater onus, and greater pressure, on employees themselves. Our employees are good employees and they don’t go out and do this. It’s not a common occurrence.
“It certainly might put us under scrutiny with Manulife a little bit more. But Manulife has a process where they do an automatic review of claims anyway. And they do exercise it.
“And, to me, the fact that it was discovered shows the audit process works. And we, as the employer, certainly encourage and do not object to Manulife doing that audit process.”
On a related note, we are aware of several employees at city hall presently off the job due to stress-related issues. Is this leading to more legitimate health claims than in previous years?
And, is the stress job related or aggravated by what has been referred to in the past as a toxic working environment at city hall?
In the past decade we can document two high-profile instances of harassment claims by employees against their immediate supervisors.
One of those just in the past year.
Shouldn’t city hall be referenced as a model workplace, to be emulated by other businesses and organizations in St. Thomas?
AN AMBITIOUS VISION
Serge Lavoie was like a kid with a new model train set Friday.
Except in this case he had in his possession a full-size railroad bridge which he was perched atop, back to the railing and soaking in the view as a gentle breeze swept aside mid-summer heat on an early-May afternoon.
Lavoie — president of On Track St. Thomas — was clutching a plaque presented to the organization by the Ontario Trillium Foundation which represented a $42,500 grant that will help fund a master plan for what could very well become Canada’s first elevated park.
This corner has written about the project several times and Friday’s media gathering overlooking Sunset Dr. and Kettle Creek added considerable credibility to the outside-the-box thinking at On Track St. Thomas — for those who doubted such an undertaking could ever be possible in St. Thomas.
In a presentation to city council back in 2012, the organization’s Matt Janes painted a picture of the Michigan Central Railroad bridge — built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000 — as “a signature attraction for rail aficionados nationally and internationally, with stunning views of the Kettle Creek valley.
“The On Track vision for the MCR bridge goes much farther however. Through an international design competition, it will become Canada’s first elevated park, joining similar structures such as the High Line in Manhattan and the Boulevard Plantée in Paris.
“In short, it will be a major tourist attraction in its own right and a significant boost to the economic development of St. Thomas.”
The structure is 855 feet in length strung out over 13 concrete piers and, at the highest point, you are 90 feet above the valley floor. The roadbed Friday was a mish-mash of weeds stubbornly fighting their way through the gravel, but it took little in the way of imagination to envision grass, plantings, artwork and overlooks that would encompass a stunning park in the sky.
Die-hard railway buffs most often cringe at the thought of rails — in this case the Canada Southern race track across SW Ontario — giving way to trails.
However, in this corner at least, it’s a most fitting memorial to a portion of the twin-steel shortcut between Buffalo and Detroit.
IT’S IN THE MAIL
Well it will be Monday evening at city hall as a representative from Canada Post will be on hand to field questions from council on the community mailbox program.
A key area of attention, keeping the mailbox areas clear in winter months for easy access by seniors and those with accessibility issues.
This past winter, several photos were sent our way illustrating the ski slopes surrounding some of these neighbourhood boxes making them nearly unapproachable without the assistance of a Sherpa guide.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK “There’s always a lot of attention paid to the major gift donations,
but the real substance of the United Way campaign is lots of people giving a little. Every little bit helps.”
James Todd, United Way of Elgin-St. Thomas president following the organization’s 60-day Re-Imagine Campaign.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.