Well, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.
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.
Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago?
It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents.
As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season.
The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake.
“No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.”
Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
It will be interesting to gauge the response at city hall
after the province announced yesterday (Friday) it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members.
To quote the release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.”
Minister Steve Clark added, “We want to gather input to ensure there are adequate mechanisms in place to hold council members accountable for any unacceptable behaviour.”
He went on to note, “It’s critical that everyone feels safe and respected in the workplace, and that they know there are accountability measures in place for members who violate codes of conduct.”
It was two years ago that an unnamed member of council was the subject of a signed complaint from a city employee alleging an individual of the opposite sex removed a cell phone from a hip pocket, brushed their body against the complainant’s back and casually touched a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.
For many of us, we’ve settled into a pandemic dictated routine where our days are punctuated with Zoom meetings interspersed with live-streamed gatherings, exponentially increasing our screen time.
Leaving us to wonder how much of this will pivot over to the new reality?
But what happens when one of these feeds fails or the audio stream is so out of whack it is impossible to follow along?
It has happened twice this month with city council: once with a reference committee meeting dealing with community grants and again this week with the scheduled council meeting.