That buzzing and crackling sound audible earlier this week was the rumor mill churning full tilt at the prospect of London Hydro and St. Thomas Energy uniting in utility bliss.
Mum’s the word from the potential partners, however the picture may come into better focus following a special in-camera meeting Tuesday where St. Thomas council – sole shareholders of parent company Ascent Group – will be briefed on the findings of Grant Thornton, the financial consultants hired by the city to explore merger partners.
Their suitor search has been completed, advised Ascent Group board chairman John Laverty on Tuesday, and they “are in the middle of putting together a summary that is to be presented to the Ascent Group board and city council.”
Laverty had not seen the summary as of Tuesday and offered, “I don’t know if London is a contender.”
He described the process undertaken by the city as “strange” in fashion.
“Normally the shareholder would come to the board of directors and say we want to sell and direct the board to go out and do all that work. They went at it differently.”
Should London Hydro prove an attractive partner, would the transaction be a merger or possible purchase?
“In a lot of mergers there is a money transfer so in many cases mergers are a partial purchase,” Laverty pointed out.
“So the city could be giving up some percentage of control of the utility. I won’t know that until I see the summary. True mergers where two partners come to the table but don’t put any money on the table, that’s fairly rare. It’s more common there is some exchange of money.”
Laverty alluded to the utility’s long history. St. Thomas became the first municipality in the province to sign a contract with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission on May 4, 1908. Three years later, the hydro – generated at Niagara Falls for Western Ontario – was officially turned on by Sir Adam Beck – first chairman of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission – in the council chamber at city hall.
“I’m hoping city council will take sufficient time to analyze all of the proposals they get,” cautioned Laverty. “This is an institution that has been in our community since 1908.
London Hydro isn’t necessarily a slam dunk in the suitor sweepstakes and Ascent Group acting CEO Rob Kent, when asked earlier this week if there were multiple contenders simply answered, “Absolutely.”
An attractive alternate might be Entegrus, based in Chatham and currently servicing Chatham-Kent, Strathroy, Mount Brydges, Parkhill, Dutton-Dunwich and Newbury.
PLEASE OPEN BEFORE CHRISTMAS
There are a few finishing touches to contend with but that shouldn’t prevent the city’s newest roadway – CASO Crossing complete with roundabout – from opening to traffic prior to Christmas, offering a short cut link between Talbot and Wellington streets.
That’s the prediction of city manager Wendell Graves.
“It will be open in the very near future,” advised Graves on Friday. “I think they are just waiting for a couple more technical pieces . . . but it will definitely be open before Christmas. It will be a nice Christmas gift.”
With the police station scheduled to open in the spring, the former brownfield is about to evolve into a centralized community hub, having the Timken Centre and Railway City Skatepark serving as neighbours.
ONE TO WATCH
A presentation to Elgin county council Thursday by St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital board chair Melanie Taylor was received in lukewarm fashion.
In the new year, the board will remove positions elected from individuals proposed by St. Thomas city council and Elgin county council in an attempt at opening up better lines of communication between the hospital and the city and county, according to Taylor.
Don’t let that bit of hospital board legerdemain fool you. This is all about drawing the screen down on prying eyes.
You have to look no further than Taylor’s dust-up this past summer with the city’s representative, Coun. Linda Stevenson, after the board chair’s alleged attempt to circumvent a CEO salary cap imposed on STEGH and all hospitals in the province in order to make the position more “competitive” as the hunt began for a replacement for outgoing president Paul Collins.
As for better communication, Dutton-Dunwich Mayor Cameron McWilliam was succinct in his assessment of the board decision.
“I find it odd that you make this membership change and then come and talk to us about communication,” McWilliam said.
Taylor conceded communicating the board’s message left a lot to be desired.
“Our process could have been better,” she said.
Odd, during a very lengthy interview with this corner after Thursday’s council meeting, Taylor not once admitted to an oopsie in the communication department.
By the by, Melanie; I’m still waiting for the best practices document you suggested was must reading in order to better understand the fundamental mechanics of the hospital board.
Much more to follow in the coming weeks.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The Canadian Coast Guard deserves to have the best boats and it’s obvious that Kanter Marine can deliver.”
London West MP Kate Young at a funding announcement Thursday in St. Thomas. Kanter Marine was awarded a $5.4 million contract to build two vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard.
City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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