City of St. Thomas to unveil a-track-tive new corporate brand


city_scope_logo-cmykSubject to council approval Monday, the city will no longer be officially known as the Corporation of the City of St. Thomas, but instead St. Thomas – The Railway City.

And with it, new branding courtesy of adHome – an advertising and digital agency based in London – and a city administrative team composed of various department staff.

The new identity for the city is designed to “reflect a strong, close-knit community that’s continually looking to move forward,” according to city manager Wendell Graves.

In addition, it is designed to “reflect a vibrant culture and progressive business ideals looking to the future with a nod to the past,” continues Graves in his report to council.

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Is Ascent realignment sign of a turnaround at the St. Thomas utility?


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Is the latest grim news over at Ascent in reality a turning point for the beleaguered St. Thomas utility?

In a phone conversation Friday with acting CEO John Laverty, he confirmed rumors swirling on social media of further layoffs.

“We had a small number of folks we let go,” noted Laverty, “but we added the same number back in different areas of the company. So the net loss to the corporation is zero.

“It’s realigning some of the business units, ones that were not being financially productive and we were running out of work for them. Continue reading

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.

An ambitious plan to elevate the status of St. Thomas


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At Monday’s city council meeting, Matt Janes, representing On Track St. Thomas, will officially unveil plans to purchase and develop the Michigan Central Railway bridge over Kettle Creek at Sunset Drive. The bridge was constructed in 1929 and at one time carried over 140 trains every day.
In his deputation to council, Janes will announce a vision to honour one of the most iconic structures in southwestern Ontario through the creation of Canada’s first elevated park.
According to Janes, the St. Thomas Elevated Park Project is the single most ambitious undertaking of On Track St. Thomas, the community development organization that assured the preservation of the CASO station and brought the rail-themed murals to downtown.

Easterly view of the Michigan Central Railway bridge, which spans Kettle Creek, Fingal Line and Sunset Drive, clearly shows the massive concrete piers that support the bridge, built in 1929 and last used 2005. Tracks and ties were removed this year.


Janes points in his report that, along with the Elgin County Railway Museum and the restored CASO station, the MCR Kettle Creek bridge is a prominent reminder of the city’s status as the Railway Capital of Canada.
“It is a signature attraction for rail aficionados nationally and internationally,” Janes advises. “As a public place it will be a high profile addition to the CASO-Trans Canada Trail and offer stunning views of the Kettle Creek valley in all directions.
Janes continues, “The On Track vision for the MCR bridge goes much farther however. Through an international design competition, it will become Canada’s first elevated park, joining similar structures such as the High Line in Manhattan and the Boulevard Plantée in Paris.
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Will provincial dithering ignite EMDC powderkeg?


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Just ahead of us on page 5 of Saturday’s T-J is a grim accounting of life for both the guards and inmates at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
“There’s going to be a riot within the next couple of months,” warns Trish Goden, a veteran of a riot in the Whitby jail and president of Local 108 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union representing jail guards.
Goden continues: “That’s the way it’s heading. The inmates are saying it was peaceful this time, but next time it’s not going to be. They don’t like being locked in all the time. They don’t like being crammed in. I understand the reason they are agitated and I don’t see those reasons going away.”

Interior of a holding cell for two inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

Take a close look at the photo at right of a cell housing two inmates. Goden suggests you wouldn’t treat dogs in this manner.
“If you had the same amount of dogs in that space, you’d be fined. They’d take them away from you. But for some reason, humans are different. I know they’re incarcerated, but there has to be a standard of life here.”
Coincidentally, what should arrive in the electronic mailbag Friday afternoon but a high-octane media release from MPP Jeff Yurek who takes a jab at the Libs “for letting conditions deteriorate so drastically.”
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Health unit ‘reverses and changes’ will impact ratepayers, warns London developer


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We opened up City Scope seven days ago by suggesting the ball was in the court of London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The comment was in reference to the decision by Elgin St. Thomas Public Health to seek new digs, not located on property owned by Farhi in the city’s west end.
Well, Farhi has rifled the ball back into this corner in convincing fashion.
He is most upset at a comment we made as to where the allegiance of members of council lie.
Specifically, my observation “any dissenting voice on city council (on a minor zoning variation needed by Family and Children’s of St. Thomas and Elgin to move into the 99 Edward St. location that is the current home of the health unit) would certainly be based on allegiance to Farhi . . . rather than to city ratepayers.
That prompted a terse email from Farhi, who asserts he had a deal in place with the health unit for his Talbot Street property.

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Should we go or stay, the answer after this time out


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We haven’t harangued the brass at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health in some time, but that
doesn’t mean they have eluded the City Scope radar.

There is a sense the contentious issue of a new home for the organization is about to surface in the not-too-distant future.

When we last left the health unit in the twilight of the previous board of directors, there was a deep rift between the city council reps — staunchly in favour of locating to new digs — and the county contingent — firmly looking to preserve the status quo with the organization remaining in the county-owned building at 99 Edward St.

This week, the health unit and the county agreed to a one-year extension of the existing lease that will see the organization stay put until the end of 2013.
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