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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Legitimate option or a case of sour grapes?


A possible third option as a home for the St. Thomas Police Service was rejected — sight unseen — by city council back in April and a Times-Journal article Wednesday indicated there was no appetite at city hall to pursue the Silver St. location, the temporary home leased by the province for the courts in St. Thomas.

Ald. Dave Warden, chairman of the police building committee, said the decision by council in April was unanimous.

“Council was adamant the building be close to downtown,” advised Warden. “And to do the renovations (at Silver St.) you would easily be pushing $10 million.”

The owner of the building — H.D. Palmer & Associates of Windsor — has offered it to the city for $8 million and this would include “all cost required to bring the building up to today’s standard as to post-disaster construction, replace the (exterior) siding, fill in the depressed loading dock on the south side and add any minor changes to the building.”
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Not knowing the price is a good thing

Don’t fall for this scam. Someone insists they know the true cost of a new police station and they’re willing to share the figure with you.
The information doesn’t exist and it never has. Oh, there have been estimates attached to various consultant reports, but they are nothing more than that — rough costing based on a conceptual plan that has no bearing on the final reality.
That was the message driven home Thursday at the initial meeting of the police building committee. A body whose mandate is to do just that — come up with a firm price based on a concrete design.
So, who sits on the committee?
It is chaired by Ald. David Warden and includes aldermen Mark Cosens and Tom Johnston, CAO Wendell Graves, treasurer Bill Day, director of engineering John Dewancker and St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell.
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More bacon now to avoid egg on the face later

After more than ten years of costly dithering, council finally made a decision on what route to take on a home for the city’s police service. However, don’t for one minute assume that will shut the tap on the steady stream of misinformation that has been leaking out from some quarters.
Figures from $20 million all the way up to $30 million have been bandied about by some aldermen and a blog in the city is stoking the fire with a cost analysis that is pure figment of the imagination. If you want to legitimize your point of view, then compare apples to apples.
With her Tweet just prior to Monday’s council meeting, Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands deftly demonstrated the fine art of fearmongering.
Her assertion a new police station “could cost average taxpayer $150.00 per year for 10 yr.” enraged Mayor Heather Jackson and Ald. Gord Campbell.
Such has been the posturing and playing fast and loose with numbers that has dominated debate over the past decade.
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October is a good month for pruning


Progressive by nature is a catchy marketing slogan employed by the County of Elgin that, unfortunately, is not readily applicable to all members of St. Thomas council.
That was painfully evident Monday when a motion to allow internet voting during a portion of the advance polling period in the October municipal election was defeated on a 4-4 vote.
Aldermen Cliff Barwick, Tom Johnston, Gord Campbell and Dave Warden presented some of the flimsiest arguments possible to maintain the status quo, i.e. the traditional paper ballot.
Had this been evidence in a court case it would have been dismissed as not germane.
The concern seniors would not vote because they prefer the traditional ballot over computer voting is a smoke screen since the paper ballot would remain as the primary method of casting one’s vote.
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Who is in and who has suffered enough


With the very distinct possibility we’ll undertake a couple of trips to the polls in 2014, the wind and water are coming together for what should prove to be an entertaining year in the council chamber at city hall.
Thursday was the first day nomination papers could be filed for the Oct. 27 municipal vote and, to the best of our knowledge, no sitting member of council has taken the first step on the road to re-election.
So, let’s do a little armchair quarterbacking and go around the horseshoe and speculate on who is going to do what this year.
Starting at the top, Mayor Heather Jackson will certainly seek a second term at the helm. Will she retain her voter base and has she managed to gain the confidence of a significant number of ratepayers who shied away from her in 2010?
There is a good possibility she will be in at least a three-horse race; has she the stamina and resources to fend off challengers?
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Let’s have a committee struck to look into that


Prior to this corner embarking on a summer hiatus a month ago, we had engaged Ald. Dave Warden in conversation regarding his motion to add an additional member to the council lineup.
The proposal was debated at the July council meeting and everything is on hold until September.
In the meantime, we checked in with Warden this week for a status update on council’s committee system, which needs a serious overhaul in his estimation.
“Come September, they’re going to review all the committees and there’s ones we shouldn’t even be sitting on. And that was my purpose to this whole thing. Let’s overhaul the committee system because there is too much redundancy and too much staff time being paid out.”
Couldn’t agree more. That’s why we love the definition of many committees: a group that keeps minutes and loses hours
It’s time for a complete review by CAO Wendell Graves and a determination as to how council somehow has been railroaded into providing a warm body to sit on an untold number of committees.
Apparently the list of committees with city representation runs to seven pages in length.
In a Monty Python world, all we need now is a committee struck to determine what to do with all the committees.
Warden figures it wouldn’t be difficult to initially trim that number by 15 to 20 groups.
To be honest, the scissors should be sharpened further.
“What has happened is every time something comes up, they form a new committee,” Warden advises. “And that’s the problem.”
Hmmm. Are we talking about something like the committee struck to look at a new indoor swimming pool, as requested earlier this year by Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands?
“If there is a group of people out there who want to look at something like an indoor pool, let them do it,” enthuses Warden.
“Let them form a committee. Bring their findings to council for its consideration. That’s the way it should be.”
Absolutely. Because whatever the proposal, it has to receive an endorsement from council.
Here’s the nitty gritty, according to Warden.
“Why do you set a committee up and appoint a council rep to it? What purpose does it serve?”
Perhaps the committees in question feel a council rep adds credibility to their cause.
Sorry, but that is not the function of our elected officials.
The bottom line – rationalize the committee commitment and you won’t need an eighth alderman.
Who knows, you may be able to trim back on council. After all, that was the key recommendation in the McCarthy-Tetrault report of 2003.

Bill Sandison has been unsuccessful in his two attempts to gain a seat on city council. However, he does have one thing in common with aldermen Jeff Kohler, Mark Cosens and Baldwin-Sands – a deep-rooted opposition to the construction of a new police headquarters.
And, in a letter to members of council, Sandison suggests the city get rid of the existing police service and rely on the OPP. As a result, no need to build a new HQ or renovate the existing facility.
Sandison points out, “The OPP is the largest police force in North America and while their officers may be the highest paid next year, having gone two years without an increase, that does not necessarily translate into the highest cost for policing services.”
He explains, “in part due to economies of scale and how responsibilities are defined, the OPP is able to offer the most cost-effective policing to many communities.”
Could St. Thomas be one of those communities?
To better understand this rationale, he refers to a document entitled “Understanding OPP Municipal Policing Costs” which can be found at
The 104-page document details how the OPP delivers policing services to 322 municipalities, on a cost-recovery basis.
Sandison notes the report was sent to Mayor Heather Jackson and is it safe to assume all members of council are familiar with it?
In conclusion, he implores “Prior to borrowing $19 million to build a new police station (as an aside, don’t believe a firm cost estimate has yet been established), it would be prudent to explore all options related to policing costs, including the cost of OPP municipal service.
“Council should ask the province for a cost-analysis of an OPP service contract for St. Thomas. Only then will council be in a position to make an informed and unbiased decision in the overall best interests of St. Thomas.”
An unlikely exercise, Bill, in the Barwick 4 era in which council now operates.

“But the focus should be on the general election coming up, not on by-elections and that’s where the party’s headed and hopefully to form a majority after the next election.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek’s take on the Progressive Conservative’s lacklustre showing in five provincial by-elections on Thursday.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to

A committee: a group that keeps minutes and loses hours


Now that he has officially tabled his motion, we can approach Dave Warden on the motivation behind adding another alderman to the council mix.
We wrote at length about this proposed change to the structure of council last week and in a conversation with Ald. Warden on Tuesday, he filled in some of the blanks.
Most important, Warden stressed, he is not going to support his own motion when it comes up for discussion on July 15.
“In fact I will withdraw it if council will deal with the bigger and more costly system we are presently working under – the committee system – which needs to be overhauled.”
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Should we be feeding one more at the council table?


Well, this one comes right out of the blue. Tucked away at the back end of Monday’s council agenda is a notice of motion from Ald. David Warden that council consider increasing the number of aldermen to eight from the current seven.
It won’t be debated at that time but will come up for discussion at the lone July council meeting.
Much like the wrangling over the process of filling the vacant seat on council, the timing of this motion has an off odor to it.
Call for change in the middle of summer when many residents are on holiday or their attention is diverted elsewhere.
I can hear it now: Members are overworked with committee proceedings they have to deal with. Having another body on board will ease the strain.
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