“We must act like where we want to be and not where we have been” – St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston’s expectation for the next four years of council


city_scope_logo-cmyk“It’s quite fun to be here . . . and it’s pretty exciting.”
That was Mayor Joe Preston’s giddy reaction to Monday’s (Nov. 21) swearing-in procedure for the incoming council.
It was also the occasion of his inaugural speech to open the very first meeting – albeit ceremonial in nature – of this new council.
Preston prefaced his remarks to council, staff and the residents of St. Thomas by praising all of the individuals who put forth their names for office.
“To all of the other candidates who ran in this race, and it was as pleasant and good a group as I have ever been associated with . . . I’d take that whole group and we could do great things with it but this is the group that has been elected.”
Preston continued, “So could we please ask those candidates, put your heart into St. Thomas still and help us make St. Thomas a better place and come to us if you need help. We’ll certainly be there to help you do it.
“To our St. Thomas team, to the hundreds of employees and directors that this community has that over this last term of council and now, going forward, will continue to do the hard work that a great staff in a city does.”

He then paid tribute to the two members who did not seek re-election.
“I wanted to say thank you again to Joan Rymal and Mark Burgess who decided at the end of the last council not to re-enter the race and stay with us.
“The work that they did in the last four years – or most of four years, Mr. Burgess joined us part way through – was equal to the task.
“And also, since that last first day of council, we had sitting in these chairs Mark Tinlin and Linda Stevenson, two other great members of parliament but, not through their choice, did leave. They passed on during the last council and I miss them both, dearly.
City council 2022 inaugurationBoth were great advisors to me in my first term and so thank you Mark and thank you, Linda.”
Preston then delved into the nitty-gritty of the path he would like to see council head in over the next four years.
A council he praised as his “dream team.”
He elaborated, “I asked what could we get that would be the best to move St. Thomas forward in the way we were doing so and what else we can do.
“Look, this is as good as it gets from a council. We will have a hard time messing this up, folks, so let’s work together to make it work.”

“As the fastest-growing city in southwestern Ontario, we must act like where we want to be and not where we have been. This means this council must fulfill our destiny and achieve smart growth in the city with the assets available to it.”

Preston went out on a limb with an ambitious objective. He committed the new council to hitting a target of 500 housing units built each year over the four terms of this council.
“And, it doesn’t mean all single-family housing. Five hundred units include supportive housing as the previous council has done and is doing under the new council.
Preston added, “Together, we will continue to build a thriving, safe and compassionate city for all residents.”
He has great expectations not only for himself but the new council over its four-year term.
“As the fastest-growing city in southwestern Ontario, we must act like where we want to be and not where we have been.
“This means this council must fulfill our destiny and achieve smart growth in the city with the assets available to it.
“I look forward to this team taking the assets of our city to a great new level.

“That they looked ahead, they saw the future and they went there. They looked forward and no one was left behind.”

Preston noted council must focus on exceptional and smart growth, supportive and market rent housing and jobs.
“With our large land acquisition (the 800 acres east of Highbury Avenue) in order to grow great new jobs in our community, we’ve got to prove to anybody who will come to start a new business in St. Thomas that we have the employment base they will need to do those jobs.
“So let’s work together on that.”
Preston closed by stressing council must look forward while leaving no one in the city behind.
“That they looked ahead, they saw the future and they went there. They looked forward and no one was left behind.
“And they looked forward to finding the best ways to grow using all of the partners that we have in the city and we will help lead, but we need lots more partners in our city and certainly the other levels of government.”

HOW ARE WE TRENDING?

Up until the start of fall, little attention had been paid for quite some time to the COVID dashboard, updated weekly on the Southwestern Public Health website.
That has changed with the triple threat of the flu, RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) and COVID which is taxing the resources of hospitals across the province.
Just this week, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre announced it has made the difficult decision to reduce surgeries as it reports daily visits to its emergency department are 80 per cent higher than usual and its inpatient beds are well over capacity.
The move will allow teams to prioritize urgent, time-sensitive surgeries and help manage patients admitted to critical care and in-patient units.

coviddashboard

And on Wednesday of this week (Nov. 23), the health unit launched an enhanced COVID-19 dashboard (see photo) which not only showcases raw data but also assesses the risk to the community associated with that data.
According to epidemiologist Kerry Bastian, since the original dashboard launched, almost 290,000 people have visited the site.
Bastian points out, “We don’t recall a time in our history that there was such an interest in the intricacies of the data that drives public health decision-making.”

“. . . individuals and health system partners such as long-term care homes and hospitals to more easily interpret their personal risk or the risk of those they care for and act accordingly.”

The updated dashboard highlights four indicators: confirmed cases, per cent positivity, new hospitalizations and active outbreaks.
And then, an indication of whether those domains are trending upward or down. And the risk assessment is labelled as low, moderate, high or very high.
So what does the provision of this enhanced date mean?
Bastian notes it will allow “individuals and health system partners such as long-term care homes and hospitals to more easily interpret their personal risk or the risk of those they care for and act accordingly.”
The new dashboard is updated every Tuesday and can be found at https://www.swpublichealth.ca/en/reports-and-statistics/covid-19-dashboard.aspx
For the week ending Nov. 19, the overall COVID-19 risk level was high, but compared to the previous week it is trending downward.

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DISCRIMINATION

In February of this year, city council received a report that unpacked the experiences of discrimination in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
It contained the results of a survey undertaken by the St.Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP).
The report noted, “Discrimination is happening in locations that are managed by the City of St. Thomas and this reality needs to be addressed.”
Discrimination in St. Thomas and ElginSecondly, the document stated, “With no immigrants, visible minorities, nor Indigenous People represented on the City of St. Thomas Council, this report can help all of us better understand how these groups are experiencing life in our community.”
You can read a copy of that report at https://www.stthomas.ca/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18316516 beginning at page 40 of the agenda.
STELIP is undertaking a second discrimination survey in partnership with Western University’s Network for Social and Economic Trends.
To complete the survey, 30 volunteers are sought who will be interviewed about experiences of discrimination that immigrants and racialized people (often called visible minorities) may have faced in the community.

” . . . is if someone feels they have been discriminated against, that is important information for us to know.”

We talked this week with Fiona Murray, community coordinator with STELIP about the undertaking.
She explained the interview with survey participants is conducted via Zoom in the language of their choice and should take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
Participants will receive a $30 gift card as compensation for their time.
The hope is to answer the question, what does discrimination look like?
Murray said, “Specifically, we are looking for people who experienced discrimination in any area in the last three years in a public place.”
That could include a job setting, any public space or a situation involving the police.

“We are not an organization that makes policy recommendations per se. But hopefully it will be a tool people in the community can use.”

The bottom line, adds Murray “is if someone feels they have been discriminated against, that is important information for us to know.”
As was the case with the initial survey, the findings will be made public on STELIP’s website.
Once posted Murray advised, “in the case of the city or the police, if they want to take that data we have made public and then use that to inform their policies or decisions, that is our hope.
“Obviously, that is not something we are particularly controlling, but hopefully by making this information available that really can (occur).”
Murray stressed the final report – as was the case with the initial survey – will not make recommendations.
“We are not an organization that makes policy recommendations per se.
“But hopefully it will be a tool people in the community can use.”
To find out more or to participate in the survey visit https://stelip.ca/projects/experiences-of-discrimination-survey-st-thomas-and-elgin/#qualitativesurvey

Related post:

St. Thomas municipal council asked to renew its commitment to addressing discrimination in the community

COMING UP

The first regular meeting of the new city council will be 5 p.m. on Dec. 5.
Immediately following – projected to be around – 5:30 p.m., council begins preliminary deliberations on the 2023 municipal budget.

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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‘The people pay their taxes, they expect some kind of service for their money and I hope we can deliver up to their expectations’ – St. Thomas Deputy Fire Chief Kyle Smith


city_scope_logo-cmykFor the past four years, the St. Thomas Fire Department has faced the equivalent of an internal multi-alarm blaze.
And, it is to be hoped with the announcement this week of Kyle Smith’s promotion to deputy fire chief that the final embers of controversy have been suppressed.
You have to delve back to August of 2017 and the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent to discover the source of the flames of discontent.
The decision was made somewhere in the corridors of city hall to look elsewhere for a replacement for the outgoing, community-minded Broadbent.
This is despite a strong candidate in Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod who, according to some sources, was not even granted an interview.
We’ll wend our way back to Ormerod shortly.
So the search for a new chief ended in Chatham-Kent where the deputy chief in that municipality, Bob Davidson was deemed the ideal replacement.
Davidson arrived in St. Thomas in January of 2018 only to abruptly tender his resignation in July 2021.

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‘The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports’ – Danielle Neilson


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a critical talking point throughout this year’s municipal election campaign.
But homelessness and, in particular, its impact on the downtown core has been a front-burner issue now for several years.
To kick off the city council meeting this past Monday (Nov. 7) Danielle Neilson, the city’s Homelessness Prevention and Housing Programs Coordinator initiated a deep dive into the lives of homeless individuals in St. Thomas and Elgin.
Her presentation and subsequent Q & A consumed a good 30 minutes.
She kicked off her information session with a reminder, “I would like to start by acknowledging that the complexity, humanity and tragedy of the impact of homelessness on people’s lives in St. Thomas are no different from what people are experiencing across all of Canada today.”
She continued, “Experiences of homelessness today are the result of deep, historic, system-level errors that have accumulated over decades.
“Such as colonialism and divestments in affordable housing. These combined with other social inequities such as deep poverty, unresolved inter-generational trauma, an inflated and unaffordable housing market, the current cost of living crisis, the impacts of the pandemic – and these are just to name a few – have cumulatively increased housing instability, including occurrences of homelessness at a higher rate than we have ever seen historically before.

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‘If we’re healthy on the inside, we will be healthy on the outside to deliver services to the community’ – incoming St. Thomas Police Chief Marc Roskamp


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s new police chief – as of January next year – wants to ensure the St. Thomas Police Service continues to deliver services to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.
That was abundantly evident during our conversation this week with current Deputy Chief, Marc Roskamp.
He’s a 25-year veteran of the St. Thomas Police Service with 16 years in uniform patrol before moving up to the Criminal Investigation Branch and then being appointed Deputy Chief in 2018.
The announcement of the retirement of Chief Chris Herridge and the promotion of Roskamp has an added personal touch.
Born and raised in Chatham, Roskamp’s father was also involved in policing.
“My father was a police officer in Chatham and, coincidently, he retired as the chief of police for the Chatham Police Service.
“So this is quite an honour, both personally and professionally, for myself and my family.
“My research tells me it is rare to have a father and then a son reach the office of chief.”

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St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge readies himself ‘for a new journey’


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter a nearly 35-year career with the St. Thomas Police Service – the last five at the helm – Chief Chris Herridge, this week announced he is retiring.
“It is time for a new journey,” noted Herridge.
Speaking with Herridge minutes before the official announcement on Thursday, he confided, “It is a personal and professional decision.”
He continued, “My family, Kim and the girls, have given up so much for my career in policing.
“The time has come, I have 34-plus years when it is all said and done and it’s time to give back to them. I’m a grandfather now.”
Like an athlete hanging up the cleats or skates, Herridge stressed, “It’s time.”
Herridge observed, “People always say you will realize it. I still love this job but as much as I love it, it’s time.”
To use another sports analogy, you are best to go out on a winning or high note.
“We have made tremendous strides in transforming into one of the most professional, advanced and transparent police services in Ontario,” noted Herridge.
“Leadership is about preparing, empowering and inspiring others to lead. Continue reading

‘I’m a collaborative leader who believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at their best life’ – St. Thomas mayoral candidate Heather Jackson


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s a re-match of the 2018 mayoral campaign in St. Thomas, only this time around Heather Jackson is not the incumbent.
She filed her nomination papers on Aug. 19, the final day to do so, joining newcomer Gregg McCart in what became a last-minute three-horse race with Joe Preston seeking the nod for a second term.
Looking back at the 2018 race, Preston prevailed by 542 votes, quashing Jackon’s bid at a third term as mayor.
It’s not as if Jackson stepped away from the political spotlight, however.
She was the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in this year’s June provincial election, finishing third to Conservative Rob Flack and the NDPs Andy Kroeker.
She polled 7,615 votes, almost double the number garnered by Liberal candidate Carlie Forsythe in the 2018 provincial vote.

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For Devon Church, what St. Thomas municipal council needs is a candidate with ‘lived experience’


city_scope_logo-cmykAs he campaigns for a seat on city council, Devon Church confidently proclaims when elected, not if.
Specifically, “When elected, I will be accountable, dedicated and propel council towards innovation and positive change.”
Church is a registered nurse at Southwestern Public Health who bemoans the lack of lived experience on the present council.
Church feels members of council “were mostly folks from a higher income level trying to figure out what to do with folks from lower incomes.”
Every candidate points to the need for solutions to issues plaguing the downtown core.
Church offers alternatives.
“I believe we need a downtown drop-in space that is accessible to all, that includes food and beds.”
But it is not the existing emergency shelter known as The Inn.

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‘It’s not always about drugs . . . It’s about losing that job’ – St. Thomas municipal candidate Rose Gibson


city_scope_logo-cmykShe has yet to win a seat on city council and yet no candidate in the St. Thomas municipal election has more campaign experience than Rose Gibson.
This is her sixth run for the roses and, on that alone, you have to respect her tenacity.
In 2018 she finished 10th in a 19-candidate field, less than 500 votes away from knocking Jim Herbert out of the running.
Her first outing was in 2000 and she returned to the fray in 2003, 2010 and 2014. Of note, each time she secured more votes than in her previous attempt.
And that vote differential four years ago is the driving force in this campaign, advised Gibson.
“I have a good group of people who really believe in me. I think the voters last time believed in me.
“You know there is an area that you learn where you made your mistakes and I realize that.

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An answer to ‘Why are we still talking about this?’


We live today in a house so divided. city_scope_logo-cmykHowever, yesterday (Friday) over the noon hour at city hall, a hundred or so individuals were able to cast aside their differences and unite in what the colour orange represents.
The sea of orange gathered to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
A day to remember but equally important to learn.
To learn what we were never taught in school.
The dark chapter in this country’s history.
A chapter finally seeing the light of day as a result of hundreds and ultimately thousands of unmarked graves of young children.
Young Indigenous children, the victims of cultural genocide.
Students snapped from their homes and shuffled off to residential schools where their identities were erased.
The last of which closed as recently as 1996.

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