Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March.
Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley.
Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring.
“The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves.
In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.”
Did you catch the common theme here?
Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager.
Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council.
After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday.
Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion.
Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting.
In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year.
The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month.
Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street.
“Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.”
He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated.
“I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).”
We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca.
The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
Seven years after the health unit closed the kitchen for three days due to food handling and storage violations, Southwestern Public Health ordered Walnut Manor closed due to public health violations.
After years of enduring rodents, bed bugs, mould and food best described as appalling and not appealing, the health unit today (July 7) issued a Section 13 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close Walnut Manor in St. Thomas due to the existence of significant health hazards.
The closure comes on the heels of an exterior fire back in May in which, luckily, no one was injured.
The only surprise in this closure order is the fact it took the health unit, city hall, mayors and councils, the fire department and other agencies in St. Thomas years to send a message to owner Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca that our most vulnerable residents do not deserve to be warehoused in the fashion they are at Walnut Manor.
With the drawing to a close this past week of Indigenous History Month and the horrific revelation of more bodies discovered in unmarked graves at another residential school, our conversation with Ray John took on increased significance.
He is an impassioned Indigenous cultural teacher at the London District Catholic School Board and with boards elsewhere in the province.
He has worked in the education field for more than 15 years and he says the mixed emotions of the past month have had a unifying effect in his Oneida community and within Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country.
“You drive up and down in our community and you see so many orange shirts. You see toys out there dedicated to the young ones that are gone.
“But there’s a real sense of unity here. It’s not that it wasn’t here before. I think it is more that we are supporting each other.”
John has been awarded for working “tirelessly in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation” and he stresses only through engaging in tough conversations will Canadians be able to educate themselves on Indigenous culture and the tyranny of residential schools.
After an extensive national search, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital had to look no further than its administrative offices to appoint a new president and CEO.
The current vice-president of integrated care, Karen Davies, will take over the helm Aug. 7 from retiring president Robert Biron.
We spoke with Davies on Tuesday (June 22) and she considers it a privilege the hospital board of directors has given her a vote of confidence.
“It’s not about you,” suggested Davies, “it’s about the patients and all of the amazing people who work here, all of the staff and all of the physicians and the community we serve.
“So, it really is a great privilege. And no, I didn’t anticipate to be in the middle of a pandemic but I’ve come to see, though, it is also such a good time of opportunity.”
Credit is due to the team at STEGH, added Davies, for the manner in which they have been able to navigate the hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic.
And continue to do so.
Monday night (June 21), city council is expected to declare Mark Tinlin’s seat officially vacant after his death on June 13 at the age of 79. It is the second time in just over a year that members of council have gone through this emotional process.
In March of last year, council was faced with the death of second-term councillor Linda Stevenson. Former councillor Steve Wookey was appointed to fill the vacant seat.
The process has not always been that seamless as we’ll delve into shortly.
Born and raised in St. Thomas, Tinlin was characterized as a “great role model for the rest of us,” by Mayor Joe Preston.
He graduated from the Ontario Police College north of Aylmer in 1963 and served with the London Police Service from 1962 through 1966.
He spent five years with the RCMP and over 20 years guiding security at universities.
His municipal career included stints as a councillor and deputy mayor of the Township of South Frontenac.
He was first elected to city council in 2014 as an alderman.
Preston had high praise for Tinlin.
It took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret.
Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.”
To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them.
“I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets.
Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.
The Ontario government on Tuesday (June 1) passed new legislation and made amendments to existing legislation in its Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy.
It coincided with the arrest of 59-year-old St. Thomas resident Eugene Andre Francois on human trafficking charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography.
A female had contacted St. Thomas Police to report she was a trafficking victim for several months as a minor in 2013.
Representing that victim is Kelly Franklin, recognized as this country’s leading expert in anti-human trafficking awareness and certification.
She is the founder of Courage for Freedom, a Canadian-based organization that exists to educate, train and certify front-line and community service providers on proven strategies and prevention tactics that serves vulnerable victims of human trafficking and sexually exploited girls.
Franklin is also the Executive Director of Farmtown Canada, located just east of Mapleton.