For the past four years, the St. Thomas Fire Department has faced the equivalent of an internal multi-alarm blaze. And, it is to be hoped with the announcement this week of Kyle Smith’s promotion to deputy fire chief that the final embers of controversy have been suppressed. You have to delve back to August of 2017 and the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent to discover the source of the flames of discontent. The decision was made somewhere in the corridors of city hall to look elsewhere for a replacement for the outgoing, community-minded Broadbent. This is despite a strong candidate in Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod who, according to some sources, was not even granted an interview. We’ll wend our way back to Ormerod shortly. So the search for a new chief ended in Chatham-Kent where the deputy chief in that municipality, Bob Davidson was deemed the ideal replacement. Davidson arrived in St. Thomas in January of 2018 only to abruptly tender his resignation in July 2021.
After an extensive national search, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital had to look no further than its administrative offices to appoint a new president and CEO. The current vice-president of integrated care, Karen Davies, will take over the helm Aug. 7 from retiring president Robert Biron. We spoke with Davies on Tuesday (June 22) and she considers it a privilege the hospital board of directors has given her a vote of confidence. “It’s not about you,” suggested Davies, “it’s about the patients and all of the amazing people who work here, all of the staff and all of the physicians and the community we serve. “So, it really is a great privilege. And no, I didn’t anticipate to be in the middle of a pandemic but I’ve come to see, though, it is also such a good time of opportunity.” Credit is due to the team at STEGH, added Davies, for the manner in which they have been able to navigate the hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic. And continue to do so.
It’s a great question. How are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders? Some with dozens of outstanding and fail to comply charges. A revolving door police are stuck in while attempting to deal with a record number of service calls, many involving social and mental health issues. All of which tax police resources at a time when there is a hue and cry to defund police. We presented this to St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge this week – which coincided with the release of the service’s 2020 annual report. A document which revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents last year while the overall use of force rates for the service dropped by 33 per cent. The report notes, “This is a very strong indicator of officer awareness, de-escalation skills along with education and training capabilities of our officers.” Herridge began the conversation by suggesting, “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this issue we are having. It’s been termed catch and release and we have to find a way to protect the victim and how do we look after vulnerable people as well.
The operative word in this week’s headline is art. Art on a grand scale. As in a massive movie-themed mural painted on Pier 9 of the Michigan Central Railroad trestle, which hosts the St. Thomas Elevated Park atop the impressive structure. The expansive visual treatment, to be undertaken by mural artist Daniel Bombardier, also known as Denial, is the brainchild of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation. Because the mural would be an alteration to the bridge designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, council’s consent is required and the matter will be on the agenda for Monday’s May 3 meeting. At an April 14 meeting of the Municipal Heritage Committee, support was given to the project, “subject to any paint or colour scheme being complementary to the historic character of the designated property.” Serge Lavoie, president of the elevated park promotes it as “a worthy addition to Canada’s first and only elevated park.”
It will be interesting to gauge the response at city hall
after the province announced yesterday (Friday) it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members.
To quote the release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.” Minister Steve Clark added, “We want to gather input to ensure there are adequate mechanisms in place to hold council members accountable for any unacceptable behaviour.” He went on to note, “It’s critical that everyone feels safe and respected in the workplace, and that they know there are accountability measures in place for members who violate codes of conduct.” It was two years ago that an unnamed member of council was the subject of a signed complaint from a city employee alleging an individual of the opposite sex removed a cell phone from a hip pocket, brushed their body against the complainant’s back and casually touched a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.
With the opening for the season at the homeless shelter serving St. Thomas and Elgin, what was once deemed “possible and probable” is set to become a reality. A reality, mind you, that is a sad reminder of day-to-day life for the homeless and near homeless in the community. Gathered outside Inn Out of the Cold, housed at Central United Church, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston announced Thursday (Oct. 3) the short-term shelter that has served as a ray of hope to the homeless for the past 10 years is to become a year-round shelter service. This will be achieved through a two-model approach, explained executive director Lori Fitzgerald. “Our normal model is that we open November through April. We open at 6 p.m. for a hot meal and we offer some activities and programs to move people forward and connect them to services. “That is followed by a good night’s sleep in a warm place and a good breakfast before heading out at 8 a.m.”
Exactly four years ago, we wrote at length about workplace harassment at city hall, referring to it as a “toxic environment.” At that time, we postulated the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, should be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to a workplace environment. The issue in 2015 involved a city employee we identified as ‘Dave’ and his allegations of verbal and physical abuse involving fellow employees and managers. In a conversation in June of that year with human resources manager Graham Dart, he conceded “As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that. “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.”
What lies ahead for the Alma College property might very well come into sharper focus this fall. London developer Gino Reale is optimistic such is the case. Speaking to him from his home Friday, Reale was upbeat. “There have been a lot of positive discussions. We’re getting close to some resolutions. But nothing has been inked.” While he was unable to reveal details at this time, Reale said discussions are underway with a group on the possibility of constructing a small recreation centre on the Moore Street property geared to seniors. Part of the green space could be utilized for a community garden, suggested Reale.Continue reading →
With a 322-page agenda plus several deputations and presentations to deal with, members of council won’t be putting the wraps on Monday’s council meeting in 45 minutes or less, as is often the case. Especially if they do what they are paid to do and represent St. Thomas ratepayers. Forget lobbing softballs and ask the tough questions. Forget the platitudes to staff about a job well done on this report or that. Of course the report is exceptional, that’s the job of staff at city hall and they do it well. Start probing. For instance, how about the city’s consolidated financial report for 2016. We’ll point you in the right direction at Page 275.Continue reading →