Are we being led down the wrong rabbit path on utility marriage? Or, how to distinguish a merger from a fire sale.

city_scope_logo-cmykDid you check out the notice in your latest St. Thomas Energy bill? Seems like the utility merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent is moving toward consummation early in the new year, with the new entity to be known as Entegrus Powerlines.
I guess when you only have a 20 per cent piece of the pie you don’t have any say in naming the beast.
And by coincidence, the merger is the subject of a report from city manager Wendell Graves on Monday’s council agenda.
It’s chock full of legalese and ratepayers have the right to a clear explanation of what is about to transpire on the eve of the merger.
More important, what are the long-term financial implications because this appears to be less a merger and more a fire sale.
So, we chatted with Graves on Friday as to what members of council are being asked to vote on as our elected representatives. Continue reading


No islands in these streams, just a series of HR obstacles

city_scope_logo-cmykCongratulations are in order to Elizabeth Sebestyen, confirmed this week as the Director of Social Services for St. Thomas and Elgin county.
She has been acting director since 2013 and has worked for the department since 2001.
And why did it take so long to announce the permanent appointment?
Well you won’t get any answers at city hall, because it involved a protracted labour relations tribunal dealing with a wrongful dismissal claim by former director Barbara Arbuckle, hired in 2011.
A conversation a year ago with city manager Wendell Graves revealed the following.
“I can’t say a lot but she’s (Sebestyen) still the acting director and Barbara is still on leave.” Continue reading

Will transit continue to take a back seat in St. Thomas?

city_scope_logo-cmykFor those who rely on St. Thomas Transit, change may be a passenger in the coming year.
The transit contract with Voyageur – originally in effect Jan. 1, 2012 – expires at the end of the year and the city has the option to enter into a three-year extension.
The transit system was up for discussion at council’s Nov. 20 reference committee meeting at city hall, where the director of environmental services, Justin Lawrence, brought mayor and council up to speed on the five-route system.
In 1989 the hub and spoke system operated with traditional transit buses on a 45-minute cycle over a 14-hour day, Monday through Saturday.
Today, the same hub and spoke system operates 11.5 hours per day (except Sunday) on a 30-minute cycle utilizing buses not far removed from RV’s that struggle to remain in one piece over what appears to be a five-year life span. Continue reading

You’d expect a healthy workplace environment at the Canadian Mental Health Association, wouldn’t you?

city_scope_logo-cmykThey deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, but staff at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association say they are struggling with their own unbearable stress.
And now, members of OPSEU Local 133 are breaking the silence.
Bolstered by CMHA members from Oxford, about two dozen staff took a stand outside the Centre Street office where they claim to be working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety.
According to Carol Warner, OPSEU staff representative, St. Thomas employees are consistently targeted and penalized by upper management for speaking up about health, safety and other workplace concerns.
“It’s hideous, it’s a long-standing issue,” notes Warner. “I would say it’s a systemic issue. We have grievances in the docket that are, at a minimum, four or five years old. And the grievance program has flaws as well.
“If one decides to, they can influence how quickly or how slowly the grievance process unfolds.” Continue reading

Nothing says summer like a circus under the big top

city_scope_logo-cmykThere’s no denying he’s chuffed an authentic, European-style circus will entertain at a dozen performances this summer in St. Thomas. But what really has Sean Dyke pumped is the big top tent under which it will perform.
Massive may be a more apt descriptor. The tent is 16,000 square feet in size, holds in excess 0f 2,000 in grandstand seating and 1,000 for catered events. The stage measures 1,260 square feet.
Now those are numbers the general manager over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can really sink this teeth into. A tent with those dimensions shouts possibilities.
Of course the touring Canadian-Swiss Dream Circus – billed on its website as “incredible displays of acrobatic, balance, aerial stunts and thrilling acts” – will occupy the Railway City Big Top for two weekends in August, that’s a done deal.

A big ‘if’ looming over proposed west end community hub

city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the announcement last April the city has extended a conditional offer to London developer Shmuel Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending to Centre Street.

The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house the Ontario Works department and the Central Community Health Centre, both currently occupying office space along the north side of Talbot Street. The possibility also exists the site could be used for affordable housing units.

In the intervening months, the city has undertaken due diligence. Time is becoming a factor, however, as the lease on the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street current home of Ontario Works and also owned by Farhi, expires later this year.

Continue reading

Departing CEO leaves St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in good health

city_scope_logo-cmykOn his penultimate day as president and CEO of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, Paul Collins reflected on a career that dates back to 1989, the last 15 years at the helm.

With construction crews clearly visible out the office window and Collins enjoying his final week bidding farewell to administration and staff, we asked him what was going through his mind as he drove in Thursday morning past the hustle and bustle of the Great Expansion.

Surely he must be swirling in a mix-master of emotions.

“Relief,” was the short, single-word answer.

Sensing my puzzlement he continued. Continue reading