‘Working diligently’ to ensure regulations are adhered to at Early Learning Centres


city_scope_logo-cmykBack in April, we wondered whether the third-party audit undertaken at Early Learning Centres in St. Thomas and Aylmer was routine due diligence on the part of city staff or complaint driven.
The matter came to the attention of this corner when a former staffer at an Early Learning Centre in St. Thomas called to alert us about a frustrating situation at the centres.
As this individual explained, at stake is the departure of former executive director Patricia Riddell-Laemers, the disbursement of top-up pay ear-marked for staff and allegations some individuals may have been wrongfully dismissed.
Matters apparently sank so low, some staffers hired a lawyer to delve into Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education violations at the Early Learning Centres. Continue reading

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No islands in these streams, just a series of HR obstacles


city_scope_logo-cmykCongratulations are in order to Elizabeth Sebestyen, confirmed this week as the Director of Social Services for St. Thomas and Elgin county.
She has been acting director since 2013 and has worked for the department since 2001.
And why did it take so long to announce the permanent appointment?
Well you won’t get any answers at city hall, because it involved a protracted labour relations tribunal dealing with a wrongful dismissal claim by former director Barbara Arbuckle, hired in 2011.
A conversation a year ago with city manager Wendell Graves revealed the following.
“I can’t say a lot but she’s (Sebestyen) still the acting director and Barbara is still on leave.” Continue reading

A temporary fix for a long-term headache


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Call it the Great Divide — the emotional rift at Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School that was the byproduct of attempts to reach a consensus to ease severe overcrowding at the former Homedale Senior Elementary School.
And the unanimous decision this past Tuesday to proceed with the Thames Valley District School Board’s preferred option of busing students to Port Stanley will not quickly heal the wound.
Referred to as Option 1, the plan entails moving French Immersion and Extended French students in Grades 7 and 8 to Port Stanley Public School, beginning in September.
It was the recommendation of senior TVDSB administrators and will transform Pierre Elliott Trudeau school into a senior kindergarten to Grade 6 facility  for the time being.
In a discussion Thursday with Kevin Bushell, TVDSB manager of facility services, he explained the goal is to keep a cohort of students together.
By that, Bushell stressed the importance of “keeping the Grade 7 and 8’s together and not splitting them between two schools . . .  And we couldn’t get a large number for kindergarten to Grade 8 for French Immersion in Port Stanley so we would have small class sizes, split grades and small cohorts of students. Continue reading

Long-term financial solution remains elusive


West Avenue Cemetery

West Avenue Cemetery

It’s shaping up as a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company.

City council Monday voted to extend the cemetery board of directors a financial life line of sorts by way of a $20,000 operating grant. Combined with the first instalment in April of $30,000, it leaves them $9,000 short of the amount requested during this year’s budget deliberations.

St. Thomas Cemetery Company operates historic West Ave. cemetery and South Park Cemetery south of the city in Central Elgin. It had served notice it would seek to abandon the two burying grounds effective April 30 of this year if the long-standing city grant wasn’t reinstated. Continue reading

Over-capacity and under-used, aye there’s the rub


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A special meeting of council on Tuesday which included invited officials from the Thames Valley District School Board did little to heal the great divide in the Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School community.

In fact, if anything, the rift has widened.

The tone was established early when manager of facility services Kevin Bushell admitted the board “mis-read the community” when dealing with overcrowding at the French Immersion school.

He then announced — and which was confirmed later that evening at the scheduled board meeting in London — an area attendance review would be undertaken beginning in the fall to be completed before the end of the year.

So, there will be no busing of senior students from the school to Port Stanley Public School to deal with severe over-crowding at the former Homedale Senior Elementary School. Continue reading

Trash-talking councillor bags Downtown Development Board


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Hot off the press Friday: public sector salary disclosures for 2014.

Now the city hall figures were released earlier this month and to recap, a total of 96 employees earned greater than $100,000, a more than 50% increase over the 2013 total of 62.

Breaking that number down, 33 members of the St. Thomas Police Service are now included, up from 16 in 2013.

Over at the fire department, 48 employees earned $100,000 or more in 2014 as compared to 32 the year previous.

And 15 city administrators exceed that figure, an increase of one over 2013.

Topping the earnings list at city hall was CAO Wendell Graves at $172,372 ($165,900 in 2013). John Dewancker, director of environmental services, earned $139,693 as compared to $132,309 the previous year and Graham Dart, director of human resources, had a salary of $127,839 in 2014 ($124,784). Continue reading

Bible Baptist Church tax exemption bylaw on hold


Bearing Precious Seed
The paperwork was ready Monday, however members of council were hesitant to seal the deal.

The desire by two councillors for further information on a tax-exemption request for church-owned property at 320 Highbury Ave. led to temporarily shelving a ready-to-endorse bylaw.

Councillors Joan Rymal and Linda Stevenson sought input from city staff on possible repercussions from the pending bylaw to waive the municipal property tax at Bearing Precious Seed, where printed material produced for Bible Baptist Church is assembled for mailout to households across Canada.

Mayor Heather Jackson backed both councillors, noting she “supported further dialogue.”

A motion to postpone proceeding with the bylaw was approved by a narrow 4-3 margin with councillors Jeff Kohler, Mark Burgess and Gary Clarke opposed to further delay.

Coun. Steve Wookey was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Rymal told the Times-Journal on Tuesday, “I am just pleased we can at least get the input from staff. I think it’s a bit dangerous of council to go ahead and make a decision without getting all the input from staff because we’re not the experts.”

Rymal added she has heard feedback from some ratepayers on the request from Bible Baptist Church.

“I’ve heard concerns we are setting a precedent and we’re going to be having all sorts of organizations . . . looking for the same tax relief.”

Stevenson, meantime, had asked for a staff report last week following a deputation to council by Pastor Al Stone of Bible Baptist Church. Continue reading