Working through COVID-19: ‘We’ve all got to be on the same page’ – St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the province now in a shutdown scenario for at least 28 days and the onus on residents to stay at home except for essential tasks, does that mean city police are lurking, waiting to collar unsuspecting citizens caught in the act?
That’s far from the reality, advised St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge in a conversation yesterday (Friday), one day after the order came into effect.
“We’re trying to put out as much information as we can to keep the public informed,” assured Herridge. “As the information comes in, we feel, if it’s applicable, to keep the public informed. Because if they’re informed, they know what to do.
“And, if they know what to do that makes our job of vital enforcement so much easier. Even today we put out a Q&A.”
You can find it on the St. Thomas Police Facebook page.
“We thought it appropriate to continue to inform our community as best as possible.
“Let’s just stay at home. We’re going to carry on business as usual as best we can, given the restrictions that we have to live under.
“We had a similar situation in the past. We had a state of emergency back in the spring and all we’re asking people to do is abide by the restrictions in place.”
“We’re not going to be pulling people over randomly to do a COVID test. We’re not going to be stopping people randomly to check if you’re staying home.
“If there’s something that’s obvious, something that’s blatant and in violation of the current order then yes, we will deal with that.
“And we’ll take the same approach as we would take along with bylaw enforcement as well. A lot of the calls we’ve been triaging and sending along to bylaw enforcement, our partners at city hall.
“But, our community has been very, very good. We’ve been very fortunate. I know our case count has gone up since September, but I applaud the residents of St. Thomas for the excellent work they have been doing with compliance.”
And, these tighter restrictions into February are not something city hall or police have instituted, they were mandated by the Doug Ford government.

Stay at Home Symbol

“We have to follow, just like any other regulation, legislation or law that is implemented. And the police have to enforce it and we will use our discretion as best we can, given the circumstances.
“But the bottom line is, we need to get through this pandemic and we need to try and save lives and keep people healthy as best as we can. And, we all need to work together as one big team here.
“I know not everyone is on the same page with the pandemic and COVID, but it’s happening and people are dying and people are getting sick and this is not slowing down any.
“This is starting to wear thin on people. We’re approaching a year now having to deal with this and we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime.
“We’re definitely being tested here. Something that may not have triggered a person six months or a year ago, those little things are now starting to trigger people.”
The burn factor is something Herridge has to deal with internally at headquarters on CASO Crossing.

“So I respect and understand how the public feels. So, I just ask let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.”

“I’m seeing it wearing on our officers. It’s a long go for them as well. When you throw that on top of everything else they have to deal with, it’s challenging.”
It’s not just the front-line officers, reminds Herridge.
“It filters through the entire organization. There’s clerical work, there’s prisoner transport work, there’s court work and it all involves the entire organization.
“We try to do a number of things around here to keep the morale up and ensure we’re looking after all of our staff. Communication is key.
“So I respect and understand how the public feels. I just ask, let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.
“And, we’re going to come out of this better. But, it’s going to take some time. During that time we’re working through this, we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
In addition to the police Q&A on their Facebook page, a complete breakdown of what is deemed essential and what is not can be found on the myFM website at https://www.stthomastoday.ca/2021/01/15/shedding-light-on-the-provinces-stay-at-home-order/.

STAY AT HOME FROM A CITY HALL POINT OF VIEW

The above segment lays out the police playbook on enforcing the stay-at-home orders, but what is the approach at city hall through bylaw enforcement?
We spoke with city manager Wendell Graves on Thursday, the day this came into effect, for an update.
“Since Day 1 of our pandemic experience since last March, our police and bylaw enforcement have been working very closely together so that the roll-out of any enforcement is on the same level. And that’s been working extremely well.

“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”

“Our approach is to try and do the education piece first and if we do get a complaint, then certainly someone is going to follow up and see what’s happening.
“If we see something blatantly going on, then they will address that. For the most part, we act on bylaw complaints.”
The approach will not be unlike the week-long education campaign undertaken late last year with downtown businesses. That blitz involved a cooperative effort with city police and Southwestern Public Health.
“We found just a great response from the community,” advised Graves. “It reinforces the face our bylaw folks certainly aren’t working independently of law enforcement in our relationship with police.
“We really have had wonderful response from the community, in terms of complying. You always get the odd pebble in our shoe we have to address.
“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”
Circling back to that education blitz with local businesses, we received a wrap-up analysis following the campaign from St. Thomas Police corporate communications coordinator Tanya Calvert, who praised the efforts of small business owners and their regard for the safety of staff and customers.
But we haven’t heard anything back from the health unit which was dealing with the big box stores and businesses outside the city.
Will city bylaw enforcement deal with possible infractions at those bigger stores allowed to stay open during the orders, at the expense of smaller, local outlets?
“They could be,” advised Graves.
We’ll be avoiding those larger outlets to help support the downtown and smaller businesses around the city but feedback on your experience at the big-box stores will be welcome.

SKATING (SAFELY) THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

Driving along Elm Street past Pinafore Park on a cold, clear winter day, you couldn’t help miss people enjoying that great Canadian past-time, skating outdoors on a frozen pond.
Well seems the hot spot (not literally) this winter is Lake Margaret. Last weekend it was populated with skaters of various ages enjoying all manner of ice activities.
Even though several days earlier a dog and its owner nearly met their fate on that very same spot.
Lake Margaret skating Jan. 10-21 (2)Now, if you’re familiar with the lake, then you’ve seen the posted signs prohibiting swimming, fishing and boating.
The lake is now owned by the city, so we touched bases with Ross Tucker this week to get the official word on gliding across the ice.
“When we re-did our parks and rec bylaw we were silent on the idea of skating on all of our water in the city,” advised Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management,
“There’s no bylaw that says you can or cannot skate on the ice. We do have going up on the recommendation of our insurance company is a sign saying, ‘Danger Thin Ice.’

“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”

“The age-old days of saying ‘use at own risk’ is not an acceptable term anymore. We’ve really been working with our insurance company on it.
“Even though we don’t test it, we understand people do test the ice. Somebody’s been checking the ice.
“It’s a fairly shallow body, and no one was on Pinafore on the weekend and it’s quite a bit deeper and hadn’t frozen through and there was more water movement.
“There were a lot of people on Lake Margaret and, in all honesty, it looked like they were having a great time.”
There’s nothing that says Canada like braving the chill and skating around a frozen body of water. Why it’s a Tim Hortons’ moment.
“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”
However, don’t savour the arrival of spring and outdoor fun on the water.
“Those activities are in the bylaw,” advised Tucker. “Council has the ability in the bylaw to designate usage.”
You can, added Tucker, use canoes or kayaks on other city water bodies.
“And, the reason people are on Lake Margaret right now,” noted Tucker, “is there’s no snow. It’s not a perfect ice surface but for kids playing and, certainly during this global pandemic, it’s so tough on people. You have to have something to do.”
So, check the ice and skate on.

Related post:

https://ianscityscope.com/2018/06/02/for-steve-wookey-is-this-the-best-way-to-go-fishing-for-votes/

GAME TIME 5 P.M.

After toying with various start times over the past few years, city council has settled on 5 p.m. for its regularly scheduled meetings. A notice of motion will be before council Monday to make the change official.
And reference committee meetings will no longer be stand-alone, explains city clerk Wendell Graves.
“What we’re going to do is envelop our reference committee discussions into council meetings. We will have those broad discussions at the same time versus breaking up into two separate meetings.”
Those reference committee meetings had been held before council gatherings and then recently were moved to afterward.
There is value to those committee meetings and, in the past year, much has come forward from those detailed discussions.
“We want that to still happen,” advises Graves. “It will be the same kind of format when we get to that point in the agenda.”
As has been the case up to now, each reference committee meeting had a defined agenda, quite often involving input from staff and outside sources.
“When we get to that point in the agenda we will identify that this will be a discussion topic.”
The 5 p.m. start time is not necessarily a convenient start time for the public since many people will either be at work or on their way home, meaning you will have to watch the archived live stream on the city hall webpage.
“It’s because we’re trying to envelop all of these sessions together without having disjointed breaks in them,” reiterates Graves.
The onus is now on the city’s IT people to ensure a good live stream of those meetings is always available and archived in a prompt fashion.
Not always the case in recent months.

THE READER’S WRITE

Last week’s item on the city’s pollution control plant raised a stink with a few readers. Carrie Hedderson Smith stresses in her Facebook comment, “the saga continues.”

“I think Justin Lawrence should live in the courthouse area, try and sit outside or go for a walk and see if he can accomplish and enjoy the action without feeling like he has to throw up.
“It may be improved but it is far from resolved. Colder weather may have dampened down the smell a bit, trust us, we’ve called the ministry and so have the neighbours, the saga continues.”

Chris Smith-Heidt has empathy for Carrie.

“Odours are strong in the Memorial Arena area as well.”

The area around the St. Thomas Elevated Park is also not immune, notes Deb Hardy.

“We live nearer to the elevated park on Sunset and rarely smell it in the cooler months, but come summer, pew!”

And, Dave Mathers has a more personal relationship with the plant.

“I cut the grass, was a spare operator and did general clean-up at the sewage plant for two summers over sixty years ago. There were complaints even then about the smells. The good news? You get used to it!! LOL”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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Even with the vaccines, the coronavirus “is not something that we can leave and forget about in the immediate future” – Dr. Joyce Lock


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Continue reading

Moving St. Thomas forward despite the coronavirus: ‘There’s no shutting the key off on this bus’ – Mayor Joe Preston


city_scope_logo-cmykAs city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.

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Keeping ‘some semblance of normalcy in our lives’


city_scope_logo-cmykDo you have the feeling we’ve spent the last nine months trying our best – most of us, that is – only to find we’re right back at Square 1 with a shut down effective Monday.
A whole lot of one step forward and two steps back.
We spoke with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek on Tuesday (Dec. 22) about his government’s decision to wind many things down for a minimum of 28 days.
And, why wait almost a week instead of starting Christmas Eve as was originally planned.
“The key to the lockdown is to open up space in the hospitals,” advised Yurek, “especially the ICU rooms across the province. We’re getting almost to capacity and you need the space in order to have other emergency surgeries like heart, stroke, etc. open for those spaces.”
As of Thursday, Southwestern Public Health was advising of eight hospitalizations across the region due to COVID-19 infections with two of those individuals in the ICU.
“That’s the key criteria,” continued Yurek, “to keep the cases numbers down and open up capacity in the hospitals. The doctors have informed us four weeks should be a good enough time period to do so.”

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Spending it well on affordable housing for St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykThe magnificent edifice at the corner of Talbot and Mary Streets, formally known as the Mickleborough building, has had a bit of an uncertain future over the past three years.
It was the former home of Ontario Works before the city purchased it from London developer Shmuel Farhi in March of 2017.
It dates back to the early 1900s and was designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach. Its appraised value at the time of the sale was $4 million.
Under the deal, Farhi Holdings was to donate $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt and the city would pay the remaining $1.7 million.
The intent at the time was to partner with the Central Community Health Centre in hopes of consolidating their operations into the structure that once housed the British mainstay Marks and Spencer in the 1970s and Huston’s Fine Furniture into the 1990s.
Added to its functions this year was transforming a portion of the stately building to serve as a day shelter for the homeless.
A far cry from the home of fine furniture.

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‘An enjoyable couple of nights’ pays off for St. Thomas ratepayers


city_scope_logo-cmykPicking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.

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Talks begin next week on how to spend our tax dollars


city_scope_logo-cmykCity council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.

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SW Ontario lagging behind in job creation, income growth, warns economist


city_scope_logo-cmykA sobering report released this week that brings into perspective the impact manufacturing’s decline has had on southwestern Ontario’s median household income through 2015 (the last year of available census data).
The report’s author Ben Eisen, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, notes Windsor falls from 10th highest median household income to 25th while London falls from 15th to 27th (out of 36 Canadian metropolitan centres).
St. Thomas is included in the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and so the report has important local relevance.
Eisen’s work covers the period between 2005 and 2015 and so it is a look back in time and the next census in 2021 may give a clearer picture of where we are today.

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Casting light when a council meeting goes dark


city_scope_logo-cmykFor 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.

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