Third-party audit at St. Thomas Early Learning Centre overshadowed by disturbing allegations


city_scope_logo-cmykWhat began this spring as a third-party audit undertaken by the city has escalated into a series of shocking and disturbing allegations and counter-allegations involving the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre – which operates childcare facilities in four different locations – and its former executive director Patricia Riddell-Laemers.
The allegations include a claim by Riddell-Laemers she was sexually assaulted by a member of the St. Thomas Police Service who was on the centre’s board of directors.
As background, City Scope was contacted in March by a former staffer at an Early Learning Centre in St. Thomas with information on the departure of Riddell-Laemers, the disbursement of top-up pay ear-marked for staff and allegations some individuals may have been wrongfully dismissed. Continue reading

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The departure of CMHA Elgin executive director ‘moved the needle in the right direction’


city_scope_logo-cmyk“All things are positive from the get-go.”
That’s the upbeat assessment of the working environment at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association after the Southwest Local Health Integration Network took a unique approach by appointing a supervisor for the St. Thomas/Elgin operation.
That move, initiated this past spring, was prompted by the report from healthcare consultant Ron McRae which pointed to numerous issues of poor governance and a lack of oversight.
Things had sunk to such a level last October that an information picket was held outside the Centre Street office in St. Thomas by staff – represented by OPSEU Local 133 – who claimed they were working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. Continue reading

Eliminating sexual harassment: “It’s a cultural shift” – A candid conversation with MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykIn a recent survey of female MPs conducted by Canadian Press, more than half (58 per cent) reported having personally experienced some form of sexual misconduct during their term in office.
The process for handling complaints of harassment – established in 2014 – was considered difficult to evaluate by one-third of respondents. They called it a first step, but insufficient on its own.
But perhaps the real story emanating from the survey is the fact only 38 of 89 female MPs took the time to participate in the voluntary, anonymous survey.
One who chose not to respond was Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, Karen Vecchio.
We caught up with her this week and she offered some candid insight into sexual harassment, an obstacle she has not faced in politics. 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

The Dobbie Report: Was the damning document hijacked?


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter reading the unabridged version of the Dobbie Report, it’s not so much the concerns raised by the author, London consultant Tim Dobbie, are troublesome — and they most certainly are — it’s the manner in which the document itself was withheld from the previous council.
And we’re not certain all members of this council received “a thorough presentation of this report and an implementation update as part of their council orientation,” a critical recommendation of the report.
But let’s step back for a moment to get up to speed on the report itself.
The organizational review of the environmental services department — budgeted at $20,000 — was undertaken in the summer of 2014 and involved interviews with staff, department heads, members of council and outside stakeholders. Along with 10 sweeping recommendations, the review details major issues facing the City of St. Thomas, including the almost $300 million infrastructure deficit.
A highly edited version was presented to the outgoing council on Nov. 3, 2014. The report was endorsed that evening by a slim 5-3 margin with aldermen Cliff Barwick, Tom Johnston and Dave Warden opposed.

Continue reading

When will mayor deliver on her parking promise?


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Not unlike the vehicles using them, the city’s consolidated courthouse parking program has required several major tuneups over the past year or so.
And the tinkering is nowhere near completion, based on the frustration level at Metcalfe Gardens where staff, residents and visitors are calling for a policy overhaul.
Prior to the opening of the new court facility in March, 2014, friends and relatives visiting the seniors residence could always park on the surrounding streets with nary a worry of being ticketed.
All that changed when the city and province reached an agreement whereby 315 parking spaces would be provided within a 300-metre radius of the courthouse.
That led to construction of the Crocker St. parking lot and several along the north side of Centre St., combined with a major crackdown on free on-street parking in the courthouse neighbourhood. Continue reading

Workplace harassment: ‘a dangerous point’ at city hall


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It would be fair to suggest the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to workplace environment.

In other words, municipal employees in dealings with their peers would expect to enjoy a relatively harassment-free workplace in which to conduct city business.

Well it’s not quite that cut and dried, as we discovered following conversations in the last two weeks with human resources manager Graham Dart and a city works employee.

“As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that,” Dart pointed out.

“There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”
Continue reading