He’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council. Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself. He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote. Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat. The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.
St. Thomas this week upped the stakes in a bid to entice a large manufacturing operation to the city.
On Wednesday the city, in partnership with St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., announced it is assembling an 800-plus acre parcel of land in the area of Ron McNeil Line and Highbury Avenue.
Sean Dyke, EDC CEO said this is in anticipation of attracting a mega industrial development to the city.
“The land we have assembled for this one is aimed at trying to attract a large investment.
“When I say large, I mean on a scale that would be like a single user on a majority portion of that property.”
Dyke added, “More often than not, companies are looking to have shovels in the ground for large investments in months rather than years and I am exceptionally pleased that the city has chosen to take this strategic path forward to encourage a level of long-term success and economic sustainability that will be felt not just in St. Thomas, but across the entire region.”
It’s been under the microscope for over a year and last month Thames Valley District School Board trustees continued with their collective finger on the pause button while dealing with the future of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. In October of last year, the program was paused pending a review “as a result of a board motion reflecting concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter that requested the administration to ‘engage in extensive consultation . . . regarding the School Resource Officer,'” according to a TVDSB release at the end of October. The release continues, “While the review found value in the program, it also confirmed that some students, including a disproportionate amount of Indigenous, Black and Youths of Colour have felt harmed or traumatized by the presence of police in Thames Valley Schools.” The SRO program has been in St. Thomas schools for a considerable length of time and Police Chief Chris Herridge stated recently, “We are very proud of our local school programs, the terrific work STPS officers have been doing in St. Thomas schools for decades and the positive relationships which have been developed . . . “ Is this the same program the TVDSB has paused for 13 months?
Perhaps the city’s alleged new community grant process isn’t quite yet carved in stone.
We wrote about the grant policy last week in advance of Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting where Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, recommended members deny small funding requests from the STEAM Education Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin because the money, according to Sheridan’s interpretation, is to be used for operating expenses.
Council heeded Sheridan’s advice but there was a notable sense of discomfort with the decision from several quarters.
Which, once again, opened up a debate over what is and what should the community grant policy look like.
Prompting this opening salvo from Coun. Steve Wookey.
“For the benefit of myself and everyone watching, I just want to review this very quickly.
“These grants are not meant for day-to-day operations. That’s where I have a little bit of a different assessment of it currently than the folks in treasury do.
“In my mind, the over-arching concept here is, does this help get something off the ground.”
A critical consideration put forth by Coun. Wookey as it could be applied to both funding applications before council on Monday.
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.
To follow up on last week’s item on the pilot project to be undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service to evaluate body cameras, Chief Chris Herridge indicated the small police force in Kentville, Nova Scotia may prove to be a valuable resource during the evaluation. We contacted Kentville police and exchanged emails with Deputy Chief Marty Smith who was most helpful with his responses to our questions. As to how long the service has employed body cameras he noted, “The Kentville Police Service started with a pilot project in 2015 under retired Chief Mark Mander. “In the beginning, we only had a few members outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras to see if they would be beneficial for our members and the public. In 2018 KPS developed a policy and every patrol member wears a BWC when working.”
It was a three-year battle to save a couple of rural schools in Elgin, but in the end, it may have been a last-minute letter of clarification that sealed the deal. Tuesday evening (Nov. 26) Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding a motion to shutter New Sarum and Springfield public schools next year. The motion had initially been introduced in October by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock, with the support of fellow area trustee Bruce Smith. After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools. A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school. Several trustees had opposed Ruddock’s motion in the belief such a move could jeopardize the business case for the construction of a new school in Belmont.
The mayors from a pair of Elgin county municipalities along with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek made their best pitch Tuesday (Nov. 19) at a special meeting of Thames Valley District School Board trustees. But it was a member of the Wilson family of Malahide who hit the ball out of the park in a bid to rescind a TVDSB motion to close New Sarum and Springfield public schools. The meeting was held to allow public input on a motion introduced last month by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock to reverse a decision to close the pair of schools next year. After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools two years ago, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools. A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school. Fifteen delegations were presented during the two-hour meeting with Yurek suggesting the construction of a smaller school than originally proposed in Belmont could allow the two threatened schools to remain open.
While one St. Thomas councillor expressed concern over further investment in the city-owned Wellington Block, an architect working on the social services and housing campus at 230 Talbot Street is “over-the-top excited” about the possibilities inside the now-vacant structure. That’s according to city manager Wendell Graves, who updated council on the status of the former Wellington Public School at the April 15 reference committee meeting. And, one of those possibilities is converting each classroom into a residential unit, with the wainscotting and chalkboards in place so that some of them could be live/work spaces. Graves envisions a total of 19 units of various sizes on the three floors, with each having its own heating/air conditioning system. Not all units would be of the geared-to-income variety, with a number of them to be market driven.Continue reading →