Looking for a place to park a share of $200 million


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Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for the federal economic development agency for southern Ontario, came to town Thursday dangling a $200 million carrot while serving up a bitter dose of reality.
“The industrial revolution’s over,” warned Goodyear. “This is the technology revolution. Manufacturing has to accept the fact that for them to remain competitive they have to use the lightest product.
“They have to use the fastest assembly line, they have to use the latest inventory software and all of these new technologies – many of which are developed here in Ontario – have to be purchased.”
Not only do businesses have to recalibrate, municipalities and their economic development corporations need to focus on the new reality.
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Closing the hospital labs? We’ll notify you about that


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An upbeat interview in Friday’s Times-Journal with Paul Jenkins, the new executive director of the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Foundation.
He is the individual who assumes the position previously held by Allan Weatherall who, like Malcolm Hopkins, didn’t fit into the long-term game plan of hospital CEO Paul Collins.
Well Paul’s fundraising endeavors may become that much more difficult based on information forwarded to City Scope on Friday.
As we understand matters, the downsizing/outsourcing may very well continue with pathology labs now housed at the hospital possibly about to be shuttered at the end of the year.
We don’t have a handle on number of people who might be impacted, although some of the work undertaken could be moved, possibly to Woodstock General Hospital. The remainder of the work would likely be assumed by a London facility.
A bit of a complication here though. The St. Thomas jobs are unionized whereas the Woodstock workplace is non-union so some negotiating would be in order.
The union – which has to be given five months notice – was apparently notified of this situation on July 11. That would mean the final day of employment in the STEGH labs would be on or around Dec. 11.
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Six-year saga of skating sculptures, and other stories


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We’ve all heard the expression, “spending money like a drunken sailor.” That’s the common theme this week in City Scope, whether it’s questionable requests for taxpayer dollars, accountability, or “who made this financial commitment anyway?”

It all comes together like the wind and the water this Monday in the council chamber at city hall, starting with the whereabouts of two wayward sculptures.

Seems when the Timken Centre opened, the fundraising committee, under the leadership of Hilary Vaughan, commissioned $60,000 to create a donor recognition wall and fashion a pair of sculptures — a hockey player and a figure skater.

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A quotation for everything: the past year in review


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It’s been a City Scope tradition to greet the incoming year by surveying the past 365 days to savor the wit and wisdom of our elected representatives.

As a collector of quotes from a variety of sources, it lends credence to the words of wisdom from British author Dorothy L. Sayers: “I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”

Of course, when media scribes document a response or comment to the pages for posterity, we must be prepared for the inevitable charge of being taken out of context.

Or, as one anonymous wag noted, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.”

With the preamble out of the way, let’s glean through a year’s worth of columns to fully appreciate what transpired in 2012.
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New skate park on the horizon, but it comes with a hefty price tag


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Listen up skateboarders, city council will be dealing with a proposed new park when it sits Monday at city hall. At that time it will receive the findings of the select skate board park committee, authorized by council in April and which held its first meeting in July.
The committee is proposing three locations for consideration: Joanne Brooks Memorial Park on the former site of Northside Arena; Jonas Park on Jonas Street; and a one-acre parcel of land northeast of the Timken Centre.
Let’s look closer at these sites.
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A case of the health minister calling the kettle black


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Now that the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Foundation has made its financial pitch to St. Thomas and Elgin county, both councils – via membership on the municipal joint committee – have compiled a list of questions designed to shake loose answers from the less-than-accommodating hospital administration.
And, the joint committee has invited – no, make that requested – Paul Bode, chairman of the STEGH board of governors, and Susan O’Brien, foundation president and chairman, attend their next meeting on Wednesday.

STEGH redevelopment sketch

STEGH redevelopment sketch


In a letter to Bode and O’Brien, dated Nov. 22, the joint committee acknowledges the hospital is a valuable community resource.
However, “we are confident that you are aware of our own municipal budgetary challenges and the fact that we must be fully accountable for taxation expenditures to those we serve,” the communication advises.
As such, the committee would like answers and information that includes:
■ Specific project costs for the redevelopment costs.
■ Is there a written, binding commitment from the province to finance the re-scoped project?
■ The province is requiring 100% of the equipment for the mental health component, representing $2.5 million, be funded locally. Why has the onus for this component of the project shifted from the province to the local jurisdiction, and where in policy or regulation is this new requirement contained?
■ The total cost of the re-scoped project is $70 million (City Scope still believes it is less than $50 million) – a reduction of about 25%, so why is the amount to be raised by the city and council still pegged at $9 million? The committee would like specific rationale why the municipal contribution is not adjusted relevant to the reduction of the overall costs.
■ And, what about infrastructure costs (roads, sewers, watermains etc.) associated with redevelopment of the hospital? Has any allowance been made for these costs?
All good questions, the answers to some of these we have previously championed in this corner.
It all comes down to transparency and jettisoning the attitude the city and county should endorse the cheques and then just go away.

DUELING DIPLOMATICOS
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek has valid concerns about how much the community must contribute to the hospital redevelopment fund and is seeking a meeting with the health ministry to sort things out.
Health Minister Deb Matthews fires back it’s time Yurek got on board with the project, and for good measure adds, “I know his party would not be building it.”
Whoa there Deb, let’s hit the pause button.
Who camped out on the front steps of the hospital just weeks in advance of the 2011 provincial vote and promised the Cadillac version of redevelopment for the facility.
And then insisted this announcement was politically transparent, in spite of the timing.
However, when Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands couldn’t keep up her end of the bargain and failed to deliver the riding, somehow the project becomes the subject of a re-scoping process.
The result – we get a stripped-down compact model and the community is saddled with the Cadillac sticker price.
So, who really needs to wholeheartedly get behind the project? More so in light of the questions listed and information sought in the opening item of this week’s column.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Sheesh.

DWINDLING DIVIDEND
Up near the front of Monday’s city council agenda is treasurer Bill Day’s budget monitoring report up to Sept. 30 of this year. Day is predicting a budget surplus of $300,000, which is not bad, but a far cry from the $1 million-plus years.
Of interest, however, is the notation from Day the 2012 dividend from Ascent Group Inc. (formerly St. Thomas Energy Inc.) has been cut in half to $250,000.
What’s the deal here?
For an operation touted in the past by former CEO Brian Hollywood and former board chairman Ald. Tom Johnston as having such a rosy future, this is rather disturbing news for the real shareholders – city ratepayers.
Sheds a little more light, perhaps, on why neither of the above individuals remains in place.
With a seemingly bleak financial picture this year at Ascent, it casts further doubt on the rationale behind greasing Ald. Johnston’s palm with Red Wings’ season tickets.
In addition to the small matter such compensation is in violation of a city bylaw.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s time for Jeff Yurek to get behind the project. I know that his party would not be building it. They have been very clear that this is not the time to be investing in capital projects, but we are.”
In their on-going war of words, health minister Deb Matthews says its time for Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek to get behind the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital redevelopment project instead of peppering her with questions.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

Wrong time and place for Ald. Yusuf to editorialize


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While his message of outrage and disgust may have been well aimed, Ald. Sam Yusuf’s diatribe on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was totally out of place Monday in the council chamber.
The complex Gaza turmoil is far outside the realm of council’s mandate and to take this time to editorialize in front of a large group of army cadets shows poor judgment on the part of Yusuf.
He would do well to channel his energy into municipal matters like attending hospital board meetings, from which he has been missing in action for months.
It is no secret he does not intend to seek re-election. Put the last two years of this term to good use. Represent the interests of constituents who voted for you – and those who didn’t.
After all, Ald. Yusuf, you were not elected to office to broker Middle East peace.

HOSPITAL STAFF WANT TO RAZ YOU
A week ago in this corner, we engaged in dialogue with St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Paul Collins following announcement the facility had been recognized for its efforts in trimming ER wait times which you can read here.
We pick up the conversation this week with an explanation from Collins on the rapid assessment zone (RAZ) and its role in the ER which will further help clarify wait times.
“We’ll have people who come in,” explains Collins, detailing visits to the ER from individuals who will undergo assessment, treatment and then be released, “and rather than clogging up the emergency department specifically, they go this rapid assessment zone where they can get a quick assessment and then they are released.
“Generally, these are patients who are not admitted. So, one of the problems we experience is in how people experience this. If you are someone who wouldn’t be appropriate in going to the RAZ because your situation is a little more concerning, then you may be in the waiting room waiting to get into emergency proper while you see someone come into emergency who may not look very serious but they are taken in the other way (through RAZ) right away.”
It can result in the perception those with less of an issue are getting attended to faster, Collins points out.
“In the end,” Collins continues, “it keeps those folks out of emergency proper and clogging it up even further. We certainly have had people comment on that. In the moment, in can be pretty disconcerting.”
In other words, movement through ER is not a care of first in, first out.
“The RAZ has certainly helped ensure the waiting room is not clogging up and folks are getting seen relatively quickly and on their way. In most cases the issues they come in with are not that complicated.”
As he is acutely aware, there will always be grumbling about wait times, however Collins and his front-line staff are putting time and thought into making life in the ER more bearable.
They’ve got the recognition from their peers to back that up.

WHO IS LOOKING OUT FOR RATEPAYERS?
One of the charges laid by the RCMP this week against London Mayor Joe Fontana is breach of trust by a public official, in relation to a cheque issued as a deposit on a wedding reception.
Here in St. Thomas, Ald. Tom Johnston received Detroit Red Wings’ season tickets valued at a similar amount as compensation for serving as board chairman of St. Thomas Energy/Ascent, in direct contravention of a city bylaw prohibiting remuneration of any sort.
Is that not a breach of trust by a public official who continues to sit and vote on city business?
Ald. Johnston has so far refused to publicly acknowledge this under-the-table compensation he orchestrated with former Ascent CEO Brian Hollywood.
Likewise, he has steadfastly refused to pay back the monetary value of the tickets.
As frustrating as that is, equally baffling is the fact no member of council has challenged Johnston in open session to account for this transgression and have him commit to a repayment schedule.
Who exactly is looking out for city ratepayers here?
Or as one T-J reader, chubby 7880, succinctly posted on our website: “City council members and the Mayor should keep in mind – tick the people of St. Thomas off … you only get 1 term. We voted you IN!!!…. we can vote you OUT!!!!!”

OUR LOSS, LONDON’S GAIN
A month ago, we speculated on the appearance of a toxic atmosphere in the environmental services department at city hall, similar to the cancerous environment nine years ago in the treasury department involving harassment of staff.
Is that the root cause behind the departure last month of operations and compliance manager Edward Soldo for greener pastures in London as director of roads and transportation?
That’s the loss of another huge city asset and if it was prompted by a philosophical clash in the bowels of city hall, then we definitely are regressing back in time.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“(The bus) is picking the individual up two hours or three hours before their actual appointment and dropping them off so that poor individual is left sitting three hours in a doctor’s office waiting for their appointment so there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong here right now in the present system.”
Ald. Dave Warden on deficiencies in the city’s paratransit system that are again dogging city council and staff.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.