The municipal vote is Monday and for the first time in St. Thomas, advance polling is available via internet and telephone. As of 11 a.m. Friday, 12.73 per cent of the 28,034 eligible voters in the city had cast their ballot, with 3,300 voting via the internet and 268 by telephone.
By comparison, 9.67 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot through in-person advance voting in the 2014 municipal election.
The total voter turnout that year was 37 per cent.
Tim Hedden, one of 19 candidates running for councillor, asked the obvious question in response to a City Scope Tweet on this year’s advance polling system.
“Curious to see if it drives voter turnout up or just made it more convenient for those that already vote.”
We checked in Friday with city clerk Marie Konefal – who is also the official returning officer – for an update on this year’s process.
She stressed advance polling will close tonight (Oct. 20) at 8 p.m. and in-person voting will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday.
Complete details are on the city hall website, including a list of all candidates.
The doors at city hall will open 7 p.m. Monday for those wishing to watch in person as the results come in.
Konefal noted, “The advance vote numbers will likely be fastest and as soon as I have access after 8 p.m. those numbers will be posted.”
The final tally from the four polling stations will be tabulated in under an hour, Konefal advised.
“We have four voting locations and they will phone in and we will be typing in their numbers and then, I’m not sure how long it will take, but we will have the school board numbers from all of the municipalities in Elgin.”
She explained the tabulation process.
“We actually use machines to count the ballots as they come in at the polling places. So, as soon as the polls close and they lock the door and everybody is out, they push a button to do the totals. It spits out the total in about 20 seconds. And then they will make their phone call to me.”
We have to admit, it makes for an exhilarating time in the council chamber and City Scope will be on hand to Tweet out results and post information on our Facebook page.
In the weeks following the election, Konefal will prepare a report for council on this year’s electoral process.
“Council did take the plunge and authorize us to do the electronic voting, so I need to let them know what the results show. Do we show that we have an increase in the number of users? Did we show that this was popular?”
She cautioned a move to further use of electronic voting in the 2022 municipal vote will not mean the end of in-person polling.
“Even if we did do full electronic in four year’s time,” advised Konefal, “I would still need to have voting locations for those people who don’t have the electronics.
“Maybe one could be at the library or one could be at city hall. It doesn’t have to be the same style of voting location that we have had. But the mall (Elgin Centre) is always popular.”
TRASH, TRAINS AND NOW A TRIAL?
This week’s breaking story that the City of St. Thomas, Ascent Renewables, Ascent Group Inc, Ascent Energy Services and a numbered company, 2154310 Ontario Inc., are being sued for general damages in the amount of $7,850,000 by a numbered company, 1787868, operating as Focus Group based in London, as expected, generated plenty of feedback.
One of the most notable revelations in the statement of claim filed by Jeffery Lang, president and CEO of both 1787868 Ontario Inc., and Terra Vox, was the fact his firm had made contact with the Ford Motor Company with a view to redeveloping the site of the Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant, as a waste-to-energy facility.
According to the statement, the city had expressed an interest in public-private partnerships and Lang began introducing city representatives to Ford officials.
Well, if you are a long-time follower of City Scope, you may remember we postulated on such a scenario in a 2009 posting entitled, ‘Trash, Trains and Talbotville.’
The on-line story was a reprise of a May 17, 2008 column that appeared in the St. Thomas Times-Journal.
It opened in this fashion, “Three intriguing tales of trash, trains and Talbotville have entwined themselves over the past month to the point you would swear they spawned from the same source.”
You can read the decade-old what-might-have-been here.
DEALING WITH DEFLECTION
One comment directed our way this week was in response to a City Scope Tweet relating to the above mentioned legal claim for damages.
Coun. Linda Stevenson Tweets, “How about the folks from the previous council…..they got us into this……. include everyone in your comment please.
The Tweet included several names and we will examine each one of them in a moment.
However Stevenson’s remark sure smacks of an attempt at deflection.
Linda, you were elected in 2014 to represent the best interests of St. Thomas ratepayers.
Linda, you chose to sit on the Ascent board of directors – no one forced you – where you had an obligation to protect the best interests of the utility.
We have long argued that is a conflict of interest.
And several years ago, we contacted municipal consultant and author George Cuff, who was quite succinct with this rule of thumb.
“My argument to seminar groups is if you want to know what conflict looks like, when you get out of the shower in the morning and stand in front of the mirror, you ought to look at the mirror and say, ‘is there any item on tonight’s agenda in which I have more involvement than the average person in this community.'”
In the city’s 2015 consolidated financial statement we discovered Ascent owed the city almost $8.3 million from the collection of water bills.
Linda, that’s the 2015 financial statement presented to council in the summer of 2016, almost two years after you took office.
Following the council meeting where that information was presented, this corner asked, “Why did no member of council challenge this when it was brought before them on Monday?”
We continued, “Are Ascent board members, Mayor Heather Jackson and councillors Linda Stevenson and Gary Clarke, afraid to come clean with the true shareholders, city ratepayers?
“Why the secrecy?”
Linda, you had four years to advise ratepayers on the seriousness of the financial situation at Ascent.
Linda, you had four years to act on this information and the best we got from you and the rest of council was the merger with Entegrus, which was nothing more than a fire sale of this city’s utility.
So Linda, is your obligation to the ratepayers or the utility?
Which one will it be?
Now, to those names you mentioned in your Tweet.
Yes, the mayor has plenty of questions to answer and in the segment below we’ll sample some areas in which her input would be appreciated.
Coun. Jeff Kohler has not sat as an Ascent board member and would not be privy to the information you had access to.
Lori Baldwin-Sands has not been on council since 2014 and was not ever a member of the board of directors and so the same applies as to Coun. Kohler.
Jim Herbert was the board chairman but has never been elected to council. Thus his obligation during this time, rightfully, would have been to the utility only. No conflict of interest.
And finally, John Laverty, who served as acting CEO of the utility, a decision which, presumably, was approved by council and by you as a member of the board.
But again, as of today, he has not sat as a member of council. See explanation for Jim Herbert.
Perhaps you remember the lengthy interview we conducted with Laverty as documented in a post here almost three years ago to the day?
In that conversation, he noted “We need to do our core competencies really well. Once we’re back doing them really well and profitable again, then there will always be opportunities to reach out.”
I’m sure Laverty advocated long and hard against any utility merger at this time.
That is, receiving a below market price on the city’s investment.
Perhaps, Linda, if you and the other board members had taken heed of his advice instead of the questionable direction given by the Grant Thornton consulting firm, there wouldn’t be the unmistakable sense ratepayers have been dealt a bill of goods from this fire sale.
Linda, the mark of an outstanding elected representative is the willingness to always remain accountable for his or her actions.
DEAR MAYOR, ANSWERS WOULD BE WELCOME
Now, to those questions mentioned above. We have directed them to the mayor’s office, however there is the likelihood city manager Wendell Graves could answer most of them.
Mayor Jackson, please provide some enlightenment on the following.
Do you still sit on the board of directors for Ascent Renewables Inc.?
Is the company still operating?
Is the company being reported as a going concern? Has it had any operations since 2012?
If it hasn’t, why are you attending meetings for a company that does nothing?
Who has and is funding the company as a going concern?
Who is paying for the audited financial statements?
Does the company have any audited debt and, if so, to who?
Any input prior to Monday’s election would, no doubt, be appreciated by city ratepayers.
FROM BAD TO BUGS
We haven’t written much about Walnut Manor of late, not because conditions have improved at the independent supportive living home in St. Thomas operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland.
No, the food is just as unappealing – as are the conditions under which residents live – which we documented again almost a year ago after receiving correspondence from a concerned relative of a gentleman housed at Walnut Manor with concerns “my dad is living in and paying for services and supports he is not receiving.”
Along with these indignities faced by the inhabitants of what can only be described as a hovel, they are now living with a serious infestation of bed bugs.
It’s not the first outbreak, however the latest onslaught appears to be on a larger scale and, to date, little in the way of remediation of any of these hazards to a dignified lifestyle for some of the city’s most vulnerable individuals has been undertaken by director Vishal Chityal.
Or, Charlie Duke as he likes to be referred to now.
A call to Rachel Dunbar at Southwestern Public Health came with the assurance an inspection of the home would be initiated, even though an examination of the facility was undertaken as recently as August.
A conversation with St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Director Elizabeth Sebestyen yielded information progress is being made to introduce some form of regulatory standards for unlicensed facilities like Walnut Manor.
And in a discussion with St. Thomas lawyer Elena Dempsey, an advocate for the residents, she observed of the owners, “these are not people who want to spend money on anything.”
So, we’ve opened up the Walnut Manor file once again and we’ll update on the latest atrocity in the coming weeks.
Meantime, if you have acquaintances or relatives housed in Walnut Manor and you would like to document living conditions at the facility, please contact us.
FOR THE CALENDAR
The elephant that put St. Thomas on the map, Jumbo, will be taking to the stage, according to broadwayworld.com. Well, the star of P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth won’t actually be performing, however playwright Sean Dixon’s production of Jumbo will be running June 12 to August 10 as part of the Blyth Festival 2019 season. For tickets and info, call the box office at 1-877-862-5984 or online
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Being adequately informed is a democratic duty, just as the vote is a democratic right. A misinformed electorate, voting without knowledge, is not a true democracy.”
– British author Jay Griffiths
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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