The recommendation before council at the Sept. 21 meeting appeared straightforward enough: That council grants permission to proceed with a procurement process to designate three operators for the
EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Now, either the mayor and councillors did not fully read the report from Teresa Sulowski, supervisor of children’s services – it was two pages in length – or they failed to comprehend the possible implications of what she is proposing.
In any event, the opportunity was there for any member of council to seek clarification or request further information.
Instead, the far-reaching report was approved in a matter of 38 seconds with nary a question or comment.
So, what is the supervisor of children’s services seeking?
In July of 2018, the city entered into a contract with Community Living Elgin (CLE) to become the agency to deliver the Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres program, known as EarlyON.
The contract expires at the end of the year.
EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer free programs to parents/caregivers and their children from birth to six years of age in various locations throughout St. Thomas and Elgin county.
The program is funded by the provincial and federal governments and this year the city received $1.1 million.
In her report Sulowski notes in 2019, “these programs saw over 18,600 visits
by children 0-6 years of age, and over 12,400 visits by parents/caregivers.”
Instead of having CLE continue with this arrangement, Sulowski is proposing to “divide the service delivery area into three distinct zones, East, West and Central, and that one service provider be dedicated to each specific zone.”
She continues, “By having one provider representing a specific zone, we will be leveraging their established partnerships and local knowledge from being embedded in the community, in order to coordinate access to services for families while also bringing the three zones together to ensure consistency in service delivery and levels.”
“Because of this decision, as of today, we are forced to advise our 12 EarlyOn employees of pending layoff notices.”
Now, the questions that should have been asked by a member of council is how much consultation was undertaken with CLE in determining this path forward?
And, can CLE bid on one or more of these service areas since they appear to have done an admirable job to date?
Well, it seems the answer to the first question is minimal consultation, according to a letter from Darren Connolly, CLE board chairman, to all members of council.
In his letter of Sept. 30, he writes, “Although we were fully aware that our existing contract was coming to an end in December 2020, we are disheartened that this partnership is potentially ending, and we had absolutely no awareness of this change until 3 hours prior to your presentation at the council meeting. We have been led to believe that we would be provided the opportunity to resubmit an RFP for the entire program, not 1/3 of it.”
And, here are the implications of Sulowski’s motion which should have been delved into by council.
“Because of this decision, as of today, we are forced to advise our 12 EarlyOn employees of pending layoff notices. Nine of these employees are members of OPSEU Local 151, and the agreement requires us to meet the notice terms of our Collective Agreement.
“We will also be required to pay out close to $100,000 in termination pay to these employees, given we have been providing these services for many years. Even if we were to be successful in an RFP for the Central Elgin portion of EarlyON, we would not require the same number of staff members currently employed, therefore these layoffs are inevitable.”
Let’s look further at the lack of consultation apparent in this decision.
“We are disappointed in the lack of communication, and that our employees found out about this as it went to council. This is not the way we typically share devastating news with our valued employees.”
“The employees were devastated with the news. They have worked tirelessly to develop strong, trusting relationships with families and community partners throughout Elgin county. And they clearly cannot understand what motivated this decision, nor can we.
“They fail to see the benefits of going from one long term provider to 3, and given the lack of consultation with us, we were unable to provide any explanation.”
Connolly continues, “We would have expected, at a minimum, to have been given notice of this pending change given our many years of providing this service to the Elgin community. Or better yet, to have been engaged in a dialogue about changes staff were considering.
“We are disappointed in the lack of communication, and that our employees found out about this as it went to council. This is not the way we typically share devastating news with our valued employees.
“And we have still to receive formal notice of contract termination from the staff at the city. We read the outcome in the council minutes.”
Connolly is asking the city for a response to the letter.
“Specifically, what motivated this proposal presented to council; what benefits are you anticipating; and what community consultation occurred to support this change, as Community Living Elgin was not included in any such consultation.”
So, in those 38 seconds, 251 collective years of experience working in the Early Years program appear to be gone.
With no notice of pending changes.
SERIOUSLY, MR. ROBERTS, IMAGINE
Clarification: In communication with Loretta Gibbons today (Oct. 11), she confirms her brother and his wife still reside at Lakeside Terrace. She adds, “Everything that is going on there today is affecting them.”
To follow up on last week’s item on Vishal Chityal and Lakeside Terrace in Port Colborne, we have been in contact with Loretta Gibbons of Calgary, whose brother and wife had been residents of that facility.
They were paying $1,000 per month each to share a bedbug-infested room with food she describes as so deplorable, “I called Meals on Wheels and they delivered lunch for them. Of course, this is not sustainable as it is $17 for two lunches every time they come.”
She lists a litany of other horrors including a cigarette deal, bank card request, accusations of elder abuse, threats of eviction and the need to call authorities.
Her calls included several to Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, last December, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Lakeside Terrace and Walnut Manor here in St. Thomas.
Both homes operated by Chityal.
Well, Gibbons responded this week to the comments in the Legislature from Jeremy Roberts, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
If you remember, this column remarked those comments were a classic example of obfuscation.
“Once again, your response did not answer the question. It contained empty rhetoric with no hope of change. It does not impress me, and frankly was a waste of Jeff Burch’s time and energy.”
Here are Gibbons’ observations.
“In your response Mr. Roberts, you spouted off information about what your government is doing as it relates to COVID-19 and how you are committed, blah, blah, blah; but it did not answer the question as it
relates to vulnerable citizens forced to live in unregulated supportive living accommodations.
“In your answer, you also referred to a COVID-19 action plan for vulnerable Ontarians. Where in this action plan does it mention anything about committing to regulate places like Lakeside Terrace in Port Colborne? More info here. https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-action-plan-protecting-vulnerable-ontarians
“Mr. Roberts, you also mentioned that this is a personal and important issue, as your brother also lives in a congregate care setting. With respect sir, if your brother had to live in the conditions that my brother and his wife have to endure due to their mental and financial circumstances, you would be taking a closer look at Bill 164 with a far greater sense of urgency than what your answer implies.
“Imagine your brother going to bed every night knowing that there are bedbugs in his bed that can and most likely will bite.
“Seriously, stop for a moment and imagine that scenario. Imagine your brother being served food that is unfit to eat.”
That photo to the left is a plate of corn served up during a recent meal. Imagine sitting down to that on a regular basis.
“Imagine that when you, as a concerned family member complain about these horrible living conditions to the management of the facility, you are told that if you or your brother are unhappy with the living arrangement, your brother is free to move out.
“Imagine that your brother has no other place to go because he has little income to support such a move. Seriously Mr. Roberts, imagine.
“In his supplementary question, Jeff Burch asked, ‘Will the Premier commit to regulating these homes and ask his members to pass my Bill 164, Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living?’
“Once again, your answer, spouted information about COVID-19 Residential Relief Fund….blah, blah, blah…. prevent the spread of COVID-19 blah, blah, blah. Where was there any commitment to supporting Bill 164?
“Once again, your response did not answer the question. It contained empty rhetoric with no hope of change. It does not impress me, and frankly was a waste of Jeff Burch’s time and energy.
“If your government ‘is committed to ensuring that those in our congregate care settings are provided the protection and services they need’, as you say, you would give Bill 164 your full attention and support and recommend everyone else in the Legislature, including the Premier, to expedite this Bill.
“Hear my plea. This is happening to my brother, right now, today!”
QUITE THE THOUGHT PROCESS
Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands has been the purveyor of some thought wanderings that result in springs popping out of your head.
Monday’s council meeting hatched another one.
The discussion centred on whether council should consider a move to a ward system of governance for the city.
While she had the floor Baldwin-Sands advised, “I had supported a ward system, but now that I know the distance to travel across the city is less than 10 minutes from one part of St. Thomas to the other, I feel I can easily represent all of St. Thomas.”
Did she just discover this week the time it takes?
If it were to take 20 minutes to cross the city would that warrant a ward system?
Is this like those school math questions about two trains travelling different speeds, how long would it take Train A to catch up with Train B?
I feel a headache coming on.
A STRONG VOICE FOR ELGIN COUNTY
A thoughtful tribute to Marietta Roberts – who died this past Sunday – from Coun. Steve Peters at Monday’s council meeting. Particularly her contributions to education in St. Thomas and Elgin.
“Marietta had an unwavering commitment to serving her community, whether it was from her earliest days as a geography and history teacher at Alma College to a long service on the board of education when we actually truly had an Elgin county board that looked after the interests of Elgin county.
“We lost a great individual in the passing of Marietta.”
In a release from Elgin MPP Jeff Yurek he observed, “I was saddened to hear of Justice Marietta Lola Doreen Roberts’ passing this morning. Justice Roberts’ esteemed career includes teaching at Alma College, practicing law in St. Thomas, and serving as the Acting Crown Attorney for Elgin county, Chair of the Elgin County Board of Education, the first female MPP for Elgin, and as an Ontario Court of Justice judge.
He continues. “In September 1987 when the Liberal tide swept across Ontario, electing a majority Liberal government for the first time in more than 40 years, her election in Elgin brought both refreshing change and a sound local perspective. In all of her roles, she distinguished herself as a strong voice and represented the county with integrity and grace.
Yurek concludes, “Elgin county, Ontario, and indeed Canada are all better for Marietta’s service. My deepest condolences to all who knew and loved her.”
On a personal note, I sat in on the trial of Cody Yeo in February of 2017, presided over by Justice Roberts.
Yeo had abandoned two dogs and a cat in a sweltering apartment with no food or water. A dead dog was found in each of the two bedrooms.
He was sentenced to four months in jail.
“It does send a message, there are judges and communities that take these things seriously. We’re really, really pleased that it was taken seriously.”
Also, Yeo – who was 20 at the time – was slapped with a 10-year prohibition on owning any animal.
It was an emotional trial that attracted pet lovers to the courthouse to condemn Yeo’s actions.
Justice Roberts said she hoped the jail time would act as a deterrent, adding “this is the most appropriate sentence to take you out of the community.”
St. Thomas animal welfare activist Lois Jackson called the term of incarceration “reassuring.”
Jackson noted at the time, “It does send a message, there are judges and communities that take these things seriously. We’re really, really pleased that it was taken seriously.”
Justice Roberts noted the sentence would have been longer except for Yeo’s guilty plea.
THE READER’S WRITE
Responding to our items last week on downtown businesses and public washroom facilities, Dave Mathers sends along this reminder.
“There used to be public washrooms beside city hall in what is now a walkway to the rear parking lot. Perhaps building replacement washrooms might be a good start to solving some of the problems experienced by downtown merchants. Something has to be done to revitalize downtown businesses.”
He recollects they were in that location until sometime in the 1960s.
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.