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

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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.

Is there proven need for an expanded council?


city_scope_logo-cmykPrevious discussions transpired more than a decade ago, however the size and composition of city council resurfaced during the Nov. 14 meeting and it is a useful exercise to revisit notes and documents from that time.

In 2003, the council of the day authorized what became the McCarth-Tetrault report – a full and independent review of council and its working relationships at city hall – undertaken at a cost of $25,000 or so.

It characterized that council as “dysfunctional” with a toxic mix of personalities resulting in a “lack of respect for others (which) seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”

The report made but three recommendations, one of which called for the reduction in size of council to seven members from the current eight, including the mayor.

Of course that recommendation was never adopted although, in 2002 council attempted a reduction in size but the motion died when no member would second it and a subsequent move to increase in size by one member was defeated on a 4-4 vote.

And here we are today seeking to increase the bureaucracy at city hall with a move to endorse a council comprised of mayor and eight councillors.

In order for a revision to the existing composition of council to be in effect for the 2018 municipal election, a bylaw must be passed prior to December 31, 2017.

At the November meeting, discussion touched on the creation of a deputy mayor position.

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Former mayor Jeff Kohler

Similar debate took place in January, 2005 based on a recommendation from then-mayor Jeff Kohler‘s task force.

A deputy mayor could either be elected or appointed by council from its existing members to serve when the mayor is unavailable.

It is worth noting the Ontario Municipal Act only recognizes the head of council and council members.

In a letter in June, 2004 to then-clerk Peter Leack from Jill Bellchamber-Glazier with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, she cautioned “if the approach of the task force is that a deputy mayor would automatically have the power of the head (of council), you may want to ask your solicitor.”

She continued, “It is my understanding the mayor must agree to a bylaw . . . that the deputy will perform all of those functions . . .”

The mayor’s task force in 2005 proposed the deputy mayor would be compensated at $23,941, the midway point between the mayor’s salary and that of an alderman.

For years, the head of council each month appointed a member to serve as acting mayor during any time of absence. Is this system not working under the present regime? If not, why not?

At a time when fiscal restraint should be rigorously preached at city hall, why is council proposing an extra salary for an additional councillor and an increase in salary for a deputy mayor?

Related posts:

Should we be feeding one more at the council table

History and findings of the McCarthy-Tetrault report 2003

GOOD TIMING

On Monday’s council agenda is correspondence from Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro advising of proposed changes to Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act.

This modernization of the existing 2001 legislation includes several key changes to watch. If endorsed, the new package would improve access to justice for the public and for municipal councillors by allowing integrity commissioners to investigate complaints.

The city already has appointed an integrity commissioner in John Maddox – who also serves as closed meeting investigator – and it just so happens council will be asked to renew both agreements with him through 2017.

Maddox adjudicates complaints received under the city’s code of conduct – adopted in 2014, but not without considerable debate over lobbying, which prompted Ald. Cliff Barwick to pronounce, “We would all need three pieces of duct tape to apply to our ears and mouth” – and that is another proposed change to the Municipal Act requiring municipalities to have a code of conduct for members of council and local boards.

If you remember, the present council was only a month into its four-year term when Maddox was called upon to mediate in a spat between two councillors during an in-camera discussion of committee appointments.

While we don’t know the specifics, it involved a message or messages exchanged between the two individuals.

Whatever was written, Maddox concluded “The message was ‘ill-timed’ and left considerable room for interpretation.”

Council will likely rubber-stamp both agreements with Maddox but has it determined whether this same service can be provided through the Ontario Ombudsman’s office?

We understand that service is free.

Related posts:

Can courtesy prevail over confrontation on council

Barwick Four found guilty in the court of public opinion

THE NAME GAME

Preston Joe 2012City council is being asked to name a street after long-serving MP Joe Preston.

In a letter to mayor and council from Stephanie Brown, vice-president of Living Alive Granola – of which Preston is a business partner – urging council to adopt the name Preston Lane for a city roadway.

“He has done so much for this community and beyond that I think we should say thank you,” writes Brown.

A noble gesture, but why stop there.

Steve Peters logged yeoman service as alderman, mayor and MPP and a street bearing his name would be equally fitting.

Karen VecchioContributed photoQUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We have to make sure we’re not being given a raw deal here and that there’s going to be money for rural infrastructure in this plan as well. Right now we’re not and we need to continue to voice our concerns.”

Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio speaking with Times-Journal reporter Jennifer Bieman this week about the federal government’s new infrastructure strategy.

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

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Can the Burstein boys of Brampton breathe life back into Elgin Mall?


city_scope_logo-cmykConsidered the poor cousin of enclosed shopping malls by its previous owner OneREIT, Elgin Mall has wonderful potential according to the small, family owned real estate investment company that acquired the 263,000-square-foot property last month.

Brothers Jay and Mory Burstein are adamant their intention is not to demolish the retail centre that first opened in 1975.

“Our goal is to try and lease the vacant space as quickly as possible and try to make this mall the vibrant place it once was,” Jay assured in an interview this week.

An optimistic game plan for a mall that is operating at a roughly 50 per cent vacancy rate. Continue reading

FTE numbers a ‘slippery slope downward’ at STEGH


city_scope_logo-cmykThey were initially announced two weeks ago and after badgering by the Times-Journal, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital administration is finally being a little more upfront on the extent of measures needed to overcome a $1 million budget shortfall for 2016/17.
Early in February it was announced as many as four full-time jobs could be cut but as many as 11 positions could be impacted through early retirement and attrition.
Hospital president and CEO Paul Collins stressed at the time the job losses won’t directly affect patient care.
How is that possible? Everything the hospital does revolves around patient care. What else is it in business for?
After all, STEGH’s mission statement promises “To deliver an excellent patient care experience . . .”
Notably absent from early discussions with the hospital was any mention of closing the outpatient lab and reducing its gastric diagnostic imaging services from four days a week to two, resulting in reduced part-time hours for medical radiology technologists.
That only surfaced when T-J reporter Jennifer Bieman — acting on information provided by an OPSEU representative — pressed hospital administration for further details on the cutbacks.
That’s the front-page story in  the Feb. 20 edition of the T-J.

Continue reading

Ascent financial picture a shocker


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You may not realize this, but as a city ratepayer you are, in essence, a shareholder in the former St. Thomas Energy or what is now known as Ascent.

With that in mind we offer a word of caution: take a deep breath and sit down before proceeding any further.

Monday night, city council will be in receipt of the 2014 audited Ascent financial statement — although as shareholders and with two members sitting on the Ascent board of directors — the gory details were laid bare some time ago.

This corner has warned the picture would be grim — we never could have imagined it is more a financial free fall.
Continue reading

Sutherland Press building roof collapse raises ‘significant concerns’


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It was a key factor in the defeat of Cliff Barwick in the 2010 mayoral vote and now the Sutherland Press building is back in the news to haunt Mayor Heather Jackson and city staff.

At a hastily called media conference Tuesday afternoon, CAO Wendell Graves and Jackson advised they have “significant concerns” about the structural integrity of the Talbot St. structure following a roof collapse Friday at the southwest corner of the building, east of Moore St.

The city has hired a structural engineer to update staff on measures needed to minimize risk to the public until the future of the building, constructed around 1910, is determined.
Continue reading