The new transparency at city hall: Your questions are fair but we don’t want to answer them.


city_scope_logo-cmykIt seemed only a matter of hours after the announcement Volkswagen was to locate its EV battery plant in St. Thomas that crews were on site felling thousands of trees in five wood lots across the 1,500-acre property.
The company involved is CLC Tree Service out of London.
A check of their website and it seems they are more of an operation focussed on tree trimming and removal of diseased or damaged trees in urban areas and not large commercial land clearing.
With heavily wooded areas across the county, is there not a local firm that could have been hired for a project of this size?
What was the tendering process involved and how many firms bid on the job?
A call to Mayor Joe Preston garnered a response of I don’t know, I wasn’t involved.
Why don’t you ask Sean Dyke over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp?
Fair enough.

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C.J. Allen delegation to St. Thomas council Monday to focus on “bureaucratic and redundant red tape and restrictive bylaws”


city_scope_logo-cmykThe agenda for Monday’s (Jan. 16) council meeting reveals what should prove to be a no-punches-pulled deputation from C.J. Allen.
He is the chair of the Good Vibes Community Association (GVCA)board of governors.
If you are not familiar with the GVCA, it was the producer of last year’s inaugural Summer Harvest Festival held in Pinafore Park.
A well-attended event that is to become an annual attraction in the park.
Allen has outlined four areas of discussion and with deputations limited to 10 minutes, he’s going to have to move quickly through his presentation.
First up is GVCA’s experience and feedback concerning the city’s special event process and the interaction with city departments, specifically in relation to last year’s festival.
Next up is a look at the city’s strategic plan and specifically Commitment 1 under the Vibrant Community banner.
This area of the plan has a mandate to “Enhance opportunities for connection and development to promote growth for people and businesses in the city.”

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‘We’re aware of sensitivities, but where is the best spot for a shelter?’ – Brian Elliot, executive director of The Inn, St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Inn, the city’s emergency shelter which opened back in January, has a new executive director.
Brian Elliot, who came on board last month, was employed in the same role previously with Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario.
He replaces interim executive director Pastor Cherisse Swarath.
In an interview with Elliot this week, we asked what is it about the emergency shelter and St. Thomas that attracted him to the position.
“I’ve been involved with non-profits, one way or another, my entire life and so I really saw The Inn as a place in St. Thomas that had been very progressive in trying to find longer-term solutions to the homeless situation.”
To minimize the number of homeless individuals in St. Thomas and Elgin, Elliot stresses the need to work with community partners.
“Habitat was all about families and, in some cases, individuals and helping them succeed. And The Inn is no different. We’re working with individuals and we’re finding the right supports and the right solutions to allow them to be more successful in their lives.
“I think there are a lot of similarities.”

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Will sticker shock dampen the enthusiasm for a community/aquatic centre?


city_scope_logo-cmykThere is no doubt plenty of support in the city for a community and aquatic centre. To the extent, if you add all the bells and whistles sought by the public, the projected cost would be well more than the estimated $25 million just for an aquatic centre.
This is all contained in a report to council for Monday’s (Dec. 20) meeting from the technical committee struck to “create a physical concept plan and determine the location for a new community and aquatic centre in order to be prepared for future funding opportunities by December 2021.”
To prepare its report, the committee looked at the Bostwick Community Centre, East Lions Community Centre, Komoka Wellness Centre, South London Community Pool and the Stoney Creek Community Centre.

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So, who really is behind the wheel of the city hall bus? It may not be who you think.


city_scope_logo-cmykQuite 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?

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From slap shots to COVID-19 shots, Memorial Arena takes on a new role


city_scope_logo-cmykWith all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health?
In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy?
You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns?
At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub.
The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda.
As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”

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Moving St. Thomas forward despite the coronavirus: ‘There’s no shutting the key off on this bus’ – Mayor Joe Preston


city_scope_logo-cmykAs city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.

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COVID-19: St. Thomas EDC is there with support for businesses, albeit it’s more emotional in nature right now


city_scope_logo-cmykSean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now.
We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus.
We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended.
We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park.
It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.
It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.

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Does preserving railway heritage in St. Thomas merit property tax relief?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes.
Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief.
While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters.
In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council.
Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”

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