Is the latest grim news over at Ascent in reality a turning point for the beleaguered St. Thomas utility?
In a phone conversation Friday with acting CEO John Laverty, he confirmed rumors swirling on social media of further layoffs.
“We had a small number of folks we let go,” noted Laverty, “but we added the same number back in different areas of the company. So the net loss to the corporation is zero.
“It’s realigning some of the business units, ones that were not being financially productive and we were running out of work for them.
“And in other areas where we were seeing some growth, there was need for some folks and we’re adding those.”
He would not reveal the number of employees released and when asked whether those given pink slips could have been transferred to other departments, Laverty said the jobs “required different skill sets.”
Laverty was hesitant to identify which unit at Ascent was impacted by the cuts and the number of employees let go although it is believed five or six were pink-slipped.
“Much of what we have been doing is what I call disruptive technology. The analogy I often use is in the early 1900s there were a lot of blacksmiths shoeing a lot of horses and then along came the internal combustion engine and you don’t need as many blacksmiths.
“Now you need car mechanics. Some times they have the skills to transfer and in most cases they didn’t.
“We had a small group of people in a maintenance world . . . and new technology comes along and there is no more maintenance.”
Laverty referred to the latest employee moves as a realignment.
“To be better matched to what we’re good at. It’s part of an ongoing review and an ongoing plan as we shift back toward our core competencies.
“I feel badly for the people we let go. But, I’m pleased to see we’re adding people in places where we need to add and make our services more productive.”
Former CEO Ron Osborne, who departed Sept. 30, identified the “four areas the company has always had as a core competency. That’s substation construction, traffic and street lighting, pole line construction and high voltage maintenance services. That’s what we’re going to focus on going forward.”
The concern, of late, was Ascent “ventured out of them (core areas) into the renewables and that wasn’t our competency area,” Laverty stressed.
Recognizing Laverty — chairman of the board of directors — has been installed in a caretaking capacity, we asked him how the search is progressing for a new CEO to take the helm.
“That process is underway and there is a committee from within the board that is looking after that. They are receiving applications as we speak. That process, I hope, will be coming to some kind of fruition in the not-too-distant future.”
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It’s difficult to discern when walking past on Talbot St., however the sadly neglected Sutherland Press building is in the process of being structurally secured by its Toronto owner following a roof collapse in mid-September.
The extent of the work undertaken to date prompted a call to this corner from city manager Wendell Graves with positive news.
“There has been sufficient work now completed on the interior to remove the emergency order,” advised Graves.
The emergency order was issued in September by the city’s chief building official.
So, what does that mean for returning to a sense of normalcy in the immediate area?
“The transit building will be able to re-open and we’re going to get Moore St. re-opened. Those actions will take in the next few days.”
However, owner David McGee is not off the hook at this stage with regard to the physical state of the building that dates back to around 1910.
The derelict structure — a significant example of the city’s early industrial heritage — has stood open to the elements for years and here’s its status as of Friday.
“The emergency order has been replaced with a property standards order for him (McGee) to complete repairs on the building,” noted Graves.
“The issues relating to the emergency order have been sufficiently addressed.”
For the time being, the scaffolding on the sidewalk in front of the building will remain in place.
“That will remain for a bit,” said Graves, “because they have to do some brick repairs.”
Repairs to the collapsed roof at the southwest corner of the four-storey structure now have to be undertaken.
What then? Will the building, which McGee had hoped to convert into condominium units, be doomed to die a slow death by neglect?
“I think we’re very much still in a process here,” suggested Graves. “There is a significant amount of work to be done on that building.”
Has McGee stated his intentions to the city?
“Haven’t seen anything current,” Graves stressed.
The Sutherland Press building was the centrepiece of a $3 million lawsuit launched by McGee days prior to the 2010 municipal election.
You have to wonder whether the orphaned edifice will silently suffer until the 2018 municipal election, at which point it will return to prominence in order to haunt the mayoral candidates for a third successive campaign.
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“It’s pretty hard to get a private members bill passed, but I think the important part is getting this bill into committee so we can start a conversation with this government about how to reduce taxes for people in this province.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London PC MPP Jeff Yurek on his party’s bid to repeal the province’s Estate Administration Tax. The private members bill was defeated 51 to 24 in its second reading Thursday afternoon at Queen’s Park.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.