Size does, in fact, matter. That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall. The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.” The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.” The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.
More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining. That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year. With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget. Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year. That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.
Justice Glen Donald’s judgement Friday (Nov. 15) at the Elgin County Courthouse infuriated the fur baby fans in the front row but, in the end, he had no other option. Following a three-day trial last month in which Tarrick Fakira-Martin – charged with unlawfully killing his dog, Lady – often wept and buried his head in his hands at graphic witness testimony, Justice Donald acquited him but noted there was no question the dog had been neglected. Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog. He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7. Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.
Planned provincial cuts and the closure of public healthcare services will lead to the Doug Ford government offloading more costs associated with these services to every municipality in the province. That is the message Melissa Holden will deliver in a deputation to city council on Tuesday (Nov. 12). Holden is a member of the Ontario Health Coalition in London whose mandate “is to protect and improve our public healthcare system for all.” In addition, the organization advocates “to protect services as public and non-profit and to protect local accessible service on the principles that underlie our public healthcare system . . . principles of compassion and equity.” Holden warns rural communities already suffering from a shortage of services will be particularly hard hit “as dispatch services and the governance of ambulance services would move further away.”
With a pair of high-profile St. Thomas court cases in the past couple of years dealing with abuse and neglect, this week’s announcement the province is proposing a new animal welfare system is encouraging news for animal advocates. The legislation was introduced Tuesday (Oct. 29) by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and, according to a release from MPP Jeff Yurek, “includes the strongest penalties ever in Canada for people who violate animal welfare laws and a more robust enforcement system.” No specifics, however, are contained in the release introducing the Provincial Animal Welfare System (PAWS) Act as to what those penalties may be. “Ontarians can be confident that the government is proposing a system that will protect animals,” assured Jones.
With just 99 days until the federal election, you might very well be wondering who the Liberal party has tasked with attempting to unseat incumbent Karen Vecchio in Elgin-Middlesex-London (EML) riding. Well, the short answer is no one. The nomination meeting was originally scheduled for January and here we are midway through July with no designated candidate although we know Lori Baldwin-Sands has filed papers. Will she be acclaimed at some point in the very near future? A phone call to David Goodwin of the federal Liberal riding association should result in some answers. “They haven’t called the nomination yet,” advised Goodwin.
On Jan. 1 of 2014, the city implemented a 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan, as mandated by the province’s Housing Services Act. The goal of the plan – in conjunction with Elgin county – is to work toward meeting the housing and support needs of the community while eliminating long-term homelessness. At Monday’s (May 13) meeting, a mid-term report was presented to council detailing four strategic directions: increase housing supply options; provide supports to keep people in the sustainable housing they currently have; enhance the current system to prevent homelessness and when homeless, “rapidly” move people into stable housing; and pursue community partnerships. Let’s focus in on the homeless strategy as 2014 was a significant first year with the rollout of the city’s plan.Continue reading →
Mayoral candidate Steve Wookey was proof the individual spending the most was not guaranteed success in last fall’s municipal vote. In a breakdown of the audited financial statements from all candidates seeking a seat on St. Thomas city council, then councillor Wookey spent $9,490 in his attempt to upgrade to a mayoral seat. All but $400 of that amount was paid for by Wookey or his wife. All of the mayoral hopefuls had a spending limit of $31,205. Incumbent Heather Jackson spent $6,842 in her failed bid at another term as head of council. Financial contributors of note to her campaign were Harold Kewley and Michelle Thomson who each chipped in $500. The successful candidate, Joe Preston, ponied up $8,361 in his municipal politics debut. All of that, by the way, came out of his own pocket.Continue reading →
If you think St. Thomas has experienced a growth spurt over the past 20 years, hold on. By the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000. To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan. Last June, the city completed a population and housing study which determined the municipality will require an additional 76 gross hectares of residential land to accommodate this growth. As such, the city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth. The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development. In addition, the city will identify recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades.Continue reading →