New hand at the helm of Community Living Elgin

Less than two weeks after the results of a provincial review were released, the executive director of Community Living Elgin has announced his retirement.

In a memo issued to staff Tuesday, board president Robert Ashcroft advised Tom McCallum will retire at the end of December after a 21-year stint at the helm of Community Living Elgin, an organization he first joined in 1976.

Ashcroft noted Michelle Palmer, Community Living London executive director, has agreed to provide interim leadership in St. Thomas for up to one year.

Ashcroft praised McCallum for maintaining “a relationship with the people he originally supported over the past 39 years and watched them grow from young children to the successful adults they are today.”

The Ministry of Community and Social Services’ financial and accountability review was made public at the end of November and was prompted by a backlash following the organization’s containment/modernization plan announced in August designed to address the estimated $700,000 deficit it is facing. The plan included job cuts temporarily put on hold, pending the results of the ministry audit.

Along with staff cuts, the modernization plan involved selling the agency’s East St. group home and closing and restructuring its Bridges Packaging community access program. The Bridges work placement initiative ceased operations on Sept. 25.

The ministry audit found there was “no evidence of financial mismanagement” within Community Living Elgin and the agency “met ministry reporting requirements and its financial and fiduciary responsibilities.”

Speaking to the Times-Journal on Wednesday, Palmer stressed “I can’t change the past” and noted the need to move forward.Michelle Palmerjpg

“I think the first order of business is to get my feet wet a little bit and help people to start looking toward the future,” advised Palmer.

“I can’t change the past and I prefer to not focus on the past. I wasn’t here but what I would like to do is create the opportunity for open dialogue and moving forward.”

As such, she will familiarize herself with the modernization plan that led to months of discontent.

“I certainly am going to spend the next little while reviewing the organization and its current state. And certainly in the process I will be looking at things like that plan. I certainly want to make sure we’re heading down the direction that ultimately is going to continue to support people with disabilities in this community. That is my ultimate focus.”

But staff should be aware she is not arriving on the scene armed with bucket loads of cash to ease the sting of auterity measures.

“I’ve told the staff this morning (Wednesday) I don’t have a magic bucket of money in my pocket but that doesn’t mean we have to close the door on discussions and strategizing and figuring this out together.

Palmer said the decision to provide interim leadership was only recently finalized and had the approval of the boards in London and St. Thomas.

“It’s been a fairly recent decision but it is certainly something we are seeing in other communities in the province rather than just automatically replacing an executive director with an executive director.

“You look at opportunities for shared services. Both boards agreed and the ministry supported the decision and we’re going to try it out.”

As to whether this could become a permanent arrangement, Palmer suggested the coming year will be a good time to test the waters.

“If there are opportunities for us to share some expertise amongst the two, this is a good opportunity to learn from each other. Do I have a master plan yet, no.”

Neither Ashcroft nor McCallum was available to comment on whether the board or the ministry encouraged the executive director to consider retirement after what has been a tumultous year at Community Living Elgin.

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