Congratulations are in order to Elizabeth Sebestyen, confirmed this week as the Director of Social Services for St. Thomas and Elgin county.
She has been acting director since 2013 and has worked for the department since 2001.
And why did it take so long to announce the permanent appointment?
Well you won’t get any answers at city hall, because it involved a protracted labour relations tribunal dealing with a wrongful dismissal claim by former director Barbara Arbuckle, hired in 2011.
A conversation a year ago with city manager Wendell Graves revealed the following.
“I can’t say a lot but she’s (Sebestyen) still the acting director and Barbara is still on leave.”
That’s been the case for some time.
“It has been some time, yes,” advised Graves.
Is she on medical leave or stress leave?
“I really can’t say any more about that,” Graves responded.
Is Arbuckle still on the city payroll?
“I can’t say anything about that,” Graves reiterated. “We are working to a resolution.”
A media release issued Dec. 6 advised for more info, call Graves.
And we did.
“I can’t obviously get into too much on the HR side dealing with Barbara,” acknowledged Graves. “I do know she is working elsewhere in the province in social services.
“All I will say is there have been a few different parallel streams of HR-related issues taking place and I’m not going to get into detailing any of those.
“But we’re finally at a place where we can announce Elizabeth as director.”
So was Arbuckle still part of the management team at city hall? Her name was posted on the staff directory.
“No, Barbara has not been on the city team for a while now,” confirmed Graves.
Final question, was there a financial settlement owing Barbuckle, as the result of a labour tribunal?
“I just can’t speak about any of those HR matters,” stressed Graves.
But let’s backtrack for a moment.
There are a few different parallel streams of HR-related issues taking place.
Is there still a toxic work environment filtering through the offices at city hall? Is there a hostile atmosphere on the city management team or is the problem limited to the HR department and its director?
Several streams would seem to point to the Arbuckle dismissal not being an isolated case. You can read the back story on Barbara Arbuckle here.
WHERE YOUR TAX DOLLARS GO
The second 2018 budget meeting – originally scheduled for last week – will begin 4 p.m. Monday (Dec. 11) in Room 204 at city hall.
This session will deal with the capital budget, with proposed projects totalling $34.8 million. Actual expenditures to date this year are in the range of $36.4 million.
Key projects for the new year include $11.3 million for Phase 1 development of 230 Talbot Street. That’s the property purchased earlier this year from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The undertaking will include 15,000 square feet of office space for social services and 28 new, affordable housing units.
Also on the books: replacement of the Dalewood bridge at a cost of $4.5 million; Phase 2 of the Talbot Street reconstruction between Pearl and Mary streets, $3.4 million; three other reconstruction projects – Flora Street, between Kains and Barwick streets; St. George Street, from Scott Street north to Kettle Creek; and West Pearl Street, north from Elysian Street. Total estimated cost, $5.5 million.
OVERTIME SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL
The Dec. 4 budget deliberations dealing with the 2018 operating budget generated questions about the projected overtime for the fire department.
Get set for a 54 per cent increase over the 2017 overtime budget of $291,000. That translates to an expected expenditure of $450,000.
The sticker shock is mitigated by the fact the fire department has rung up $498,000 in OT this year already. That’s 71 per cent over budget.
It is somewhat offset by a 22 per cent drop in regular full-time wages and an 18 per cent decline in general operations expenses.
The new chief has an obvious focal point to begin his tenure in St. Thomas.
By contrast, the police overtime budget for the new year is projected at just shy of $181,000.
Overtime and lawyers exact a price on city budget
So, this guy comes up to me and asks, ‘When is the next bus to St. Thomas?’
FIRST UP IN THE NEW YEAR
We’re less than a month away from the proposed merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, out of Chatham-Kent.
Most interesting will be the financial details of the new entity. More specifically how the local utility’s long-term debt – estimated in excess of 20 million – will be dealt with following consumation of the deal.
We can’t help but feel this is not so much a merger as a fire sale.
And if that is proven the case, watch for the utility marriage to become an election issue, what with Mayor Heather Jackson ensconced on the board of directors.
Answers needed on dealing with Ascent long-term debt
Lots of red ink, but rest assured nothing will be written off
City council gives green light to St. Thomas Energy merger; we remain in the dark on status of debt
TICKET TO RIDE
If approved by council on Monday, the cost of riding St. Thomas Transit will increase on March 1 of next year.
The cash fare for all riders, including children and seniors, will rise from $2.50 to $2.75.
Adult tickets will increase to $2.25 from $2.00 and tickets for students/children/seniors go to $1.65 from $1.50.
Adult monthly passes will sell for $70, up from $65 and students/children/seniors passes will retail for $60, up $5 from the current price.
Providing a transit service is normally a money-losing proposition, with the cost per ride of conventional transit coming in at $3.73.
The cost per ride for parallel transit is $20.18.
And, Coun. Joan Rymal please take note of the following from Monday’s report.
Fare parity is mandated when a municipality is providing a conventional and specialized transit service per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Section 66, 1-8. Fare parity is to ensure that equality is being observed and fare discrimination is not occurring to infringe on riders’ human rights.
On several occasions, Rymal has pushed for increases to parallel transit fares beyond the conventional fare.
The expense to the city of defending a higher charge for parallel transit would prove costly at a human rights tribunal.
You cannot charge parallel transit users a higher fare because the conventional service cannot accommodate them.
If you doubt that, give accessibility advocate Stan Taylor a call. He’s had plenty of experience challenging the city on transit-related issues.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
And this comes from reader Nancy who wonders, “Too bad that city hall did not negotiate a fair price for the arena’s new name instead of giving it away for free!”
Excellent point, Nancy, and we posed that question to our city manager.
“I think the name of Joe (Thornton) presented itself and council was very comfortable in recommending that take place,” noted Graves.
So then, isn’t this a lost revenue opportunity for the city?
“Considering all the factors, council is comfortable with their decision,” added Graves.
Comforting to know our elected representatives didn’t even consider exploring the possible revenue generated from shopping around the naming rights.
The city, as a corporation, must truly be in a strong financial position.
Will transit continue to take a back seat in St. Thomas?
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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