Although their backgrounds and platforms embrace a broad political spectrum, we discovered Wednesday (Sept. 19) the four St. Thomas mayoral candidates agree on one aspect of city life.
Incumbant Heather Jackson, Coun. Steve Wookey, former Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Joe Preston and entrepreneur/artist Malichi Male contend it is time to throw the transit routes and schedules under the bus.
The four were participating in a town hall forum at the CASO station, hosted by young & free press, a new media outlet in St. Thomas composed of a trio of 16-year-old high school students working in tandem with STEAM Education Centre board member Andrew Gunn, who served as moderator for the evening.
Full credit to Jenn Klassen, Maddie King and Alex Popen for crafting a variety of imaginative and probing questions delving into the city’s historic railway assets, Talbot Street redevelopment, business and job creation, arts and culture, housing and public transit.
It was the latter issue that galvanized the mayoral candidates.
Jackson confirmed she has ridden the city buses and that led her to declare the time has come to scrap the current transit structure and start “from scratch.”
She added revised routes are needed with the possibility of turning to an on-demand transit system.
“It was a much better system in the past,” she conceded.
Male drew a chuckle from the 150 or so in attendance when he observed, “I rode the system once, it was awful.”
He is proposing a ride-sharing system for individuals heading to the same general location.
He noted cab fares in the city are not competitive and in a bold move, put forth the idea of allowing other cab companies to enter the city to operate.
Male added, by allowing Uber to ply the streets of St. Thomas, cab fares would come down.
“We need to promote these programs,” he stressed.
Preston also elicited laughter when he admitted he tried to hop a bus but is was after 6:30 in the evening.
“We have a transit system we can’t count on,” Preston added. “The stores are open to 9 p.m. but the buses stop at 6:30 p.m.”
He concluded, the system “is beyond broken.”
Wookey observed only six per cent of city residents use the transit system.
He is promoting demand-responsive transit in off-peak hours. A system in which buses are sent closer to users so they do not have to rely on fixed stops.
“There are ways forward for the bus system,” stressed Wookey.
“There has got to be change and it’s not going to be cheap.”
“Who wants to be The Railway City? We need to re-brand with a focus on entrepreneurship.”
The evening kicked off with a question dealing with the amount of investment needed to ensure the new branding for St. Thomas as The Railway City remains relevant.
Male gave a thumbs down to the marketing direction, saying “Who wants to be The Railway City? We need to re-brand with a focus on entrepreneurship.”
Wookey looked beyond the city boundaries to York, England, home of the National Railway Museum with its world-class display of exhibits, artifacts and operating equipment.
“That’s what I want to see here,” enthused Wookey. “But how much are we willing to spend to have that asset here?”
Preston pulled no punches on branding, “I’m going to be the greatest cheerleader for The Railway City.”
As to revitalizing the downtown core and attracting new investment, Male said it’s simple if your focus is on arts and culture.
“People want to experience culture, food and the arts.”
Noting he was chairman of the Downtown Development Board for a decade, Preston explained, “We have to make it attractive for businesses to succeed.”
Wookey cautioned the city has to direct where commercial areas are located in order to encourage growth downtown.
Jackson pointed to the redevelopment of Talbot Street West, adding “We should be rewarding good property owners,” not out-of-town landlords holding on to vacant store fronts and receiving tax benefits in the process.
“We need to shame them.”
The young & free press team plans to host a similar forum for the 19 councillor candidates, to be held 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 inside the Elgin County Railway Museum.
WHO GETS YOUR VOTE?
The above mentioned young media hounds held a poll last month to gather input on which mayoral candidate seems to be attracting the most support. Granted it was far from scientific and garnered just 73 votes, however it is worth noting the results of their poll.
- Joe Preston – 34 per cent
- Heather Jackson – 30 per cent
- Steve Wookey – 28 per cent
- Malichi Male – 8 per cent
A second mayoral poll is now being conducted on their Twitter account @yfpstthomas.
ONE TO WATCH
Just when you thought all controversy swirling around the St. Thomas Energy/Entegrus utility merger had subsided somewhat, we find out city councillors last week were in receipt of a letter from Jeff Lang, former president of TerraVox Group Inc.
In 2011, St. Thomas Holdings Inc. and the city purchased a 51 per cent share in TerraVox for $450,000 and the entity was renamed Ascent Renewables.
On April 20, 2012, St. Thomas Holdings Inc. ceased operations at Ascent Renewables.
According to Lang, an offer by his numbered company to purchase the 51 per cent interest held by St. Thomas Holdings Inc. was rejected as out of hand.
Lang contends Ascent Renewables is now completely non-operational, although it continues to produce annual audited financial statements stating the company is audited as a “going concern.”
However there is no value in the company.
Lang intends to file a statement of claim to recover outstanding debt “if reasonable resolution is not reached.”
He has contacted members of council in the belief “you have not been made aware of the magnitude of the dispute.”
We will have more on this in the near future.
Meantime this corner filed a Freedom of Information request at city hall to obtain the Grant Thornton consulting report dealing with the St. Thomas Energy/Entegrus merger.
Grant Thornton was hired by the city – at a cost of around $1 million – to advise council on the possible merger.
Our request was denied by city clerk Maria Konefal, who also serves as Freedom of Information and Privacy Coordinator, for several reasons as she quotes from the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
One of those refers to “an unjustified invasion of another individual’s personal privacy” and that the personal information “is highly sensitive.”
No doubt it is highly sensitive to several people who occupy offices on the second floor of city hall, one a former chair of the utility’s board of directors. An individual to whom questions should be directed prior to next month’s municipal vote.
We will request a review of this decision with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
THE READERS WRITE
Our recent articles on the Patriot Properties proposed residential development at the former Alma College property has generated considerable feedback, with a variety of opinions.
Serge Lavoie checks in with, “I take issue with the idea that once the order is on title, it remains there forever and can never be removed. Municipalities often designate properties under the Ontario Heritage Act, a condition which is also put on title. “Municipalities may remove that designation with a proper vote of council. It then is removed from title. St. Thomas has done this before. In this case, the city will need to ask the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, successor to the OMB, to repeal the order. It will have to make its case and demonstrate that there is substantial community support for the move.
“Contrary to what the Municipal Heritage Committee seems to believe, this is not precedent setting.”
Leo Anthony left no doubt about his support for dropping the Ontario Municipal Board condition dealing with replication of the Alma College facade.
“Hurray for (Alma College International Alumnae Association president) Donna Robertson! Dawn Doty and Susan Fortin-Smith…get real. It’s time to move on.”
Neil Moore observed, “As long as the OMB order is in place the property will remain as is, empty and unused. Development today is what is needed. A developed property increasing tax revenue is good for all city residents and taxpayers.
“We need to look at the realities of the situation not live in the past. The college is gone. Before the fire it sat neglected. Now there is an opportunity to make the site vibrant and alive. Let’s make the most of the opportunity.”
Ann Bottineau didn’t mince her words.
“Put a nice plaque out front and get on with it.”
As to whether the amphitheatre will be open to the community as a whole, Lavoie responded, “I’m pleased with the decision to rescind the OMB order but it’s crystal clear in my mind that Patriot Properties must restore the amphitheatre and it must be publicly accessible.
“Those of us who attended all the public meetings relating to this development clearly heard Michael Loewith state that this would be the case. He even went so far as to state it was his intention to reach out to the Elgin Theatre Guild to investigate having them manage the facility for regular presentations.
“In the same vein, the internal trail system being built on the property must also be publicly available for pedestrians and cyclists, giving the community a connection from the L&PS walking trail to Ross Street. I expect council and city staff to hold the developer fully accountable for his earlier promises.”
Heather Crockett felt the amphitheatre article is “a bit misleading and without hearing directly from Loewith for clarification, it’s all to readers interpretation.”
She continued, “So is that saying if I want to just sit on a step and read a book, I’m not welcome but if I want to host an event I could contact management to possibly be approved? If that’s the case then things like the Theatre Guild night could still happen.
“The other part about it being only open to residents and invited guests is very vague.”
Ed van der Maarel wrote, “I may have missed something but I attended the public meeting at Memorial (Arena). I thought we were to receive answers to all the questions that were asked?
“Also very disappointing design for the award-winning firm, ERA. They actually need to spend some time in St. Thomas before they design. An hour or two doesn’t cut it for a set of buildings that will be in OUR backyards for years to come.”
And Lorraine Lindsay downplayed the historical significance of the amphitheatre.
“We need apartments in this city. How many people do you think care about an amphitheatre? Let’s get on with it and don’t hold things up for months/years like the book bindery fiasco on Talbot St.”
Ah yes, the Sutherland Saga that gripped the city for a decade.
ONTARIO WORKS ANNOUNCEMENT
In the event of a postal strike, the St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works office will be handing out all September cheques in their office. Clients who are not on direct deposit are encouraged to discuss setting up direct deposit with their case worker.
The cheque pick-up date is Friday, Sept. 28 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. One piece of photo ID is required and cheques will only be released to the person named on the cheque.
FOR THE CALENDAR
The Downtown Development Board and Rogers are teaming up to host a mayoral candidates forum beginning 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Wellington Street. The event will be televised at a later date.
The municipality of Central Elgin will hold a public meeting beginning 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 in the Elgin County Administration Building, to consider a zoning bylaw to implement federal regulations governing land use adjacent and within proximity to the St. Thomas Municipal Airport.
The purpose of the meeting is to afford members of the public an opportunity to make representation with respect to the proposed zoning bylaw, which will regulate the height of buildings, structures and vegetation within proximity of the airport.
An open house is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. that day at the airport to provide an opportunity for the public to review the draft zoning bylaw.
More information is available at centralelgin.org/planning.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
Visit us on Facebook