Casting light when a council meeting goes dark


city_scope_logo-cmykFor many of us, we’ve settled into a pandemic dictated routine where our days are punctuated with Zoom meetings interspersed with live-streamed gatherings, exponentially increasing our screen time.
Leaving us to wonder how much of this will pivot over to the new reality?
But what happens when one of these feeds fails or the audio stream is so out of whack it is impossible to follow along?
It has happened twice this month with city council: once with a reference committee meeting dealing with community grants and again this week with the scheduled council meeting.

With the former, it’s as though the meeting never transpired and with the latter, it is fortunate council’s business was taped and the video was eventually posted on Thursday.
What is the protocol when a council meeting cannot be live-streamed so ratepayers can monitor the comings and goings of our elected officials?
Should the meeting continue, especially if there is no back-up taping?
If members proceed is it not, in effect, a closed session where we are not privy to what is transpiring?
And, what if technology fails during the meeting and no one is aware of the glitch?
The CBC pursued this when a city committee meeting and a Hamilton public school board meeting – both open to the public – were plagued by technological shortcomings.
Situations like this are not covered in any COVID-19 related legislation introduced by the provincial government and they certainly aren’t addressed in the Ontario Municipal Act.
The CBC contacted David Siegel, a retired political science professor at Brock University, who advised “Once there’s no live streaming, then that’s no longer really an open meeting anymore.”
Had there not been a back-up in the case of the city council meeting, the best record we would have are the minutes recorded by clerk Maria Konefal.
That would not include detailed comments and the exchange of dialogue amongst members.
By live-streaming, you are acknowledging the public’s right to observe what transpires.
If the stream fails and cannot be resumed within a reasonable amount of time, Siegel recommends all meetings be recorded.
It’s a situation Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube is reviewing.
Yesterday we contacted Andrew Sancton, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Western University for his insight.
Andrew Sancton“I’m inclined to cut the municipalities a little slack here,” advised Sancton.
If the event was recorded, as was the case with Monday’s council meeting, Sancton noted, “If that’s what they do and they put the video up quickly, I really don’t see a problem.
“Unless it’s a meeting designed for public participation, in which case people can’t participate if the meeting has already happened.
“But, if it’s a regular meeting of council and something beyond their control goes wrong and they put up the video soon after, I really don’t see a problem.

“And, if council went ahead and nobody was able to see it, that would be reason for complaining to the Ombudsman or the closed meeting investigator.”

“People are going to find out very quickly what happened, just as if they were watching or they were at the meeting.”
If the meeting was not recorded and people are not able to view what transpired, Sancton advised “the appropriate thing to do would be to stop the meeting.”
While trying to resolve the technological glitch.
“And, if council went ahead and nobody was able to see it, that would be reason for complaining to the Ombudsman or the closed meeting investigator.
“The next step for the tech people is to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it. I would hope that’s what they would do.”
If you search the council web page on the city hall website, there is no indication whatsoever the Nov. 2 reference committee meeting ever took place.
Obviously, it was not taped, leaving the city open to questioning.

A NEW SHELTER, SAFE FOR ANIMALS AND STAFF

The renderings of the proposed new animal shelter got good reviews at Monday’s (Nov. 16) council meeting. Nothing was approved at that time as it will become an item for consideration next month during 2021 budget deliberations.
animal shelter prosed designCoun. Mark Tinlin queried what appears to be an oversized parking area, but as Justin Lawrence, director of environmental service, explained the lot will service the shelter, the dog park and will be an overflow lot for the ball complex.
Coun. Gary Clarke questioned Lawrence on going the renovation route rather than constructing a new facility.
“The existing renovation was between $300,000 and $400,000 and that’s what we had previously budgeted, noted Lawrence.”
As he reminded, the previous council decided it was not good value after the project was tendered.
“We didn’t proceed and we went back to the drawing board at that time. There isn’t any room for expanding the dog runs at the existing site.”
Coun. Joan Rymal closed the discussion with, “I’m hopeful it will go through and for the length of time we’ve been talking about this building, if we’re in the animal business we need to make sure we bring the building up to par.
“We need certain amenities to look after the animals, to look after infection control, to make sure the animals are safe and also to make sure the staff are safe.”

Related posts:

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/11/14/we-get-this-protest-in-we-move-it-out-of-town-and-do-it-as-peaceful-as-possible/

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/09/19/stegh-reports-uptick-in-covid-19-testing-but-sufficient-capacity-for-anticipated-influx

GOING BIG ON SMALL

The micro-apartments proposed for the transit centre on Talbot Street also were well-received Monday.
The plan is to convert the second floor of the structure into 16 apartments and, back in August, council approved hiring TCA architects for design estimates.
Transit station micro apartment renderingThey have identified an approximate cost of $1.9 million for construction of the units, while the city had projected $2.5 million for fees, construction and furnishings.
Council approved moving forward with the formal tendering process and, when concluded, members will be in a position to authorize the actual
construction.
A tenancy plan for the units is in the works and will soon be in front of council.

Related posts:

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/08/15/st-thomas-now-has-a-face-covering-bylaw-but-does-it-have-any-teeth-should-it-need-any/

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/05/02/mpp-yurek-named-to-team-tasked-with-developing-a-roadmap-to-a-stronger-more-prosperous-economy/

LONG-TERM CARE’S LONG-TERM PROBLEM

With COVID-19 numbers spiking dramatically and increased restrictions placed on long-term care homes this week by Southwestern Public Health, this message from Warren Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union is timely.
Thomas is calling COVID-19 related deaths in long-term care homes “the crime of the century.”
smokey thomsaHe writes, “Every week, I watch the death toll climb in long-term care. And every week, I watch in disbelief as our politicians act like all these tragedies are some kind of mystery.
“There’s nothing mysterious about it. But there is something very wrong: the willingness of some to put profits before people.
“As far as I’m concerned, the deaths of roughly 2,000 people in our long-term care homes is the crime of the century, and that is why I’ve called on the OPP to launch an investigation.
“That has raised some eyebrows, but I’ll continue to call for an investigation until I see some action. There were criminal charges after the Walkerton tragedy in which seven died – surely the deaths of 2,000 people are a good enough reason for police to at least investigate.

“Now, the virus obviously doesn’t care who owns a particular home. But it does thrive in environments where rooms aren’t cleaned properly, where residents are crammed together, where there isn’t enough staff to provide a safe environment, and where nobody has the proper PPE and safety equipment.”

“When investigating a crime, police officers need to establish means, motive, and opportunity. In the midst of a pandemic, the means and opportunity are easy to figure out. And you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the motive. It’s profit plain and simple.
“The Toronto Star and the Ontario Health Coalition have both done excellent work tracking the differences in the death rates in for-profit homes compared to non-profit and municipal homes. And what they’ve found is chilling.
“The Star’s research is particularly revealing. Despite the fact that there’s a roughly equal split in the province between for-profit and non-profit long-term care beds, there have been nearly 10 times as many COVID deaths in for-profit homes during the second wave.
“The for-profits homes also fared worse during the first wave – nearly 1,400 of the people in their care died, which was more than 70 per cent of all long-term care deaths in the province.
“If numbers like that aren’t a smoking gun, I don’t know what is.
“Now, the virus obviously doesn’t care who owns a particular home. But it does thrive in environments where rooms aren’t cleaned properly, where residents are crammed together, where there isn’t enough staff to provide a safe environment, and where nobody has the proper PPE and safety equipment.

“And then let’s finally close this disgraceful chapter on privatized long-term care. Let’s start a new book. One of accountability, care and respect. Those who built this province deserve that.”

“And we know from other newspaper reports and research – not to mention from our own members working in long-term care – that those are the conditions you’re far more likely to find in for-profit homes.
“Why? It’s simple. The profit motive trumps all and everybody from managers down to the front-line staff are forced to cut corners in order to cut costs in order to maximize profits.
“This isn’t a new problem. Privatization has been a long-term problem in long-term care, ever since Mike Harris opened the sector to profiteers. Low and precarious staffing levels. Overcrowded homes. The strict rationing of basic necessities like bed sheets and diapers.
“Front-line members of our union have been raising the alarm bells about these conditions for years. But now that the virus is here, taking deadly advantage, we can no longer ignore the basic problem and the basic solution.
“It’s time to take the profit motive out of long-term care.
“And it’s time to hold responsible those who’ve caused so much pain and suffering by putting those profits before people.
“I understand that the Premier considers himself a businessperson and that he’s got a natural affinity for others in business. I also know there is concern that litigation could bankrupt private operators. So be it. Shielding long-term care owners from lawsuits with Bill 218 is wrongheaded, not to mention unconstitutional. After all, business people like to say they deserve their profits because they’ve taken the risk. They and their shareholders should also have to pay the consequences.
“And yes, the government will have to step up and assume control. Perfect! That’s what needs to happen.
“So I say let the lawsuits proceed. Let the criminal investigations begin.
“And then let’s finally close this disgraceful chapter on privatized long-term care. Let’s start a new book. One of accountability, care and respect. Those who built this province deserve that.”
The message from the OPSEU president’s desk offers the perfect segue into our next for-profit item. Supportive living homes like Walnut Manor in St. Thomas, owned and operated by Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca.
As mentioned last week, his homes in particular are the driving force behind Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre and his private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes.
Read on below.

TWO DAYS WAS 48 HOURS TOO LONG

How Kim Finch ended up in Walnut Manor several weeks ago is a bit of a mystery we’ve tried to unravel, with no success.
How he got there is not the issue, what he found there and his abbreviated stay – thank goodness for him – is further illustration of the warehousing of our most vulnerable citizens.
Walnut Manor garbagejpgFinch was admitted to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital after suffering a stroke and upon his release – with no permanent address at this time – he landed at Walnut Manor.
We talked with him the day he fled the premise, after spending two nights within its walls.
The first thing he discovered was the door to his room didn’t lock and to maintain some privacy, he piled boxes against the door.
That didn’t stop a male resident from entering the room in the morning in a threatening fashion.
Fearing the worst, he contacted police who arrived and spoke with the resident and then assured Finch everything was under control.
Satisfied, Finch summoned up the courage to stay another night.
We’ll let him pick up the story from there.
“I’ve just been doing nothing but pulling bed bugs off me and throwing them in a plastic container in my room.”
For the privilege of sharing his abode with wildlife, Finch was going to be charged $1,075 per month.

“One of the residents said you have to get in early to get a table. They don’t have enough tables for everybody.”

Of course, that includes meals.
Again, we’ll let Finch describe mealtime.
“The tables aren’t wiped down from the last meal, from other people’s meals. I got up in the morning and at the table, whoever was sitting there, the little plastic container with night medications was sitting on the table.”
Finch documented all of this through a series of photographs.
“I took pictures from every angle in the washroom. There’s probably mould behind the wall.
“I took pictures of the windows and there are branches growing inside.”
Having visited Walnut Manor several years ago, I witnessed the state of the screens and windows. It was not a comforting sight.
As for staff, Finch said he saw two members who both lived there.
“I was taking my morning meds and a staff member said ‘Why don’t you use your other hand.’ And I said I’ve had a stroke.
“They’re poorly informed staff members. I was sitting there biting at the bubble package.
“But I don’t think it’s really their fault.”
While recounting his weekend at Walnut Manor, Finch was sitting on the front step waiting for a relative to find alternate accommodation.
It gave us time to discuss further the menu available.
“The first day at dinner it was a hamburger patty on a plate with some canned vegetables. That was it and they give you a spoon. And I only have one hand so I had to use it to cut the hamburger.”
We should add this is a patty only. No bun, not even bread.
For lunch, just a bowl of soup.
And for breakfast, there wasn’t room to eat in the kitchen so Finch ate in the room that houses the television.
“One of the residents said you have to get in early to get a table. They don’t have enough tables for everybody.
“And it was scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and one of the residents said that was one of the better ones.”
All of this for $1,075 a month, no charge for the bed bugs.
Brought to you by the award-winning team at SupportiveLiving.ca.
Shortly after our conversation, Finch was picked up by a relative and taken to a motel until he could find suitable digs for the time being.
There is a bright note to this, however. If you have driven by the home you can’t help but notice the amount of garbage littering the property.
Realizing the fire risk, Chief Fire Prevention Officer Bill Tod had a dumpster brought in and had staff empty the garage and get rid of the junk around the building.
“I told them you will clean it up or I will charge you. And we will keep an eye on them.”
MPP Burch’s bill, Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act, 2020 (Bill 164) needs to clear all legislative hurdles promptly.

Related posts:

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/11/07/from-38-seconds-to-90-days-oh-those-unintended-consequences/

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/10/03/keeping-the-wolves-from-the-front-door-and-the-homeless-from-the-back/

THE READER’S WRITE

Not sure I follow the connection here but two readers responded to last week’s item regarding proposed plans for a new animal shelter. In some fashion, they are linking the shelter to Hospice for Elgin, to be built at a yet-to-be-determined location.

Carrie Hedderson Smith commented on our Facebook page with this suggestion.

“I sure hope the city will step up and get a plan going for the much-needed hospice that MPP Jeff Yurek announced now that the plan for the new animal shelter is in effect.”

She posted a similar comment on the myFM Facebook page and as I noted there, the city is not directly involved with the hospice. St. Joseph’s Health Care Society will own and sponsor the hospice with governance through a local board of directors. The city and Elgin county have been approached to offer financial support.

And on a similar note, June Harris likewise pivots to the animal shelter with this comment.

“That makes sense when hospice patients have to go to Woodstock or London if there is even room. OMGoodness. Priorities?????.”

For both readers, the drawings presented Monday are conceptual and are meant to help in fundraising efforts only at this time. A new animal shelter has not yet been approved and will be dealt with further next month during the 2021 city budget deliberations.

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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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.

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