Is the province interfering in or ensuring compliance with municipal codes of conduct?


It will be interesting to gauge the response at city hall

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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.

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Thinking collectively in stopping ‘this scourge, sharps in this community that are not getting retrieved’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe 70 or so minutes discussing Southwestern Public Health’s sharps program this past Monday exceeded the length of the majority of council meetings in the past year.
And, when Mayor Preston wrapped up the discussion, nothing had been resolved as to why is it the city’s responsibility to undertake disposal of discarded sharps – hundreds of thousands of them each year – when it is the health unit that dispenses them.
And, that is not a misprint. In 2019, the health unit distributed about 438,000 of them throughout its coverage area with about a third of those being returned after use.
The health unit is proposing a collaborative partnership with the city whereby it would be responsible for disposing of the sharps at an estimated annual cost of $65,000 per year.
As Coun. Joan Rymal duly noted the city is already on the hook for about $100,000 annually for sharps disposal. The three or four large bins around the city need to be cleaned out several times a week because the numbers dropped off as opposed to the twice a month the health unit feels would suffice under the partnership.

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A caring environment in a stable, permanent home is the foundation for transformation in people’s lives


city_scope_logo-cmykThis past Monday was a busy day for Mayor Joe Preston as he noted the city was able to undertake a decade’s worth of work in a day.
Preston was referring to the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments as laid out at the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting.
One of the pillars of that plan is creation of a compassionate community and the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be constructed in a single location and be open by September of this year.
Well on Monday the city released a blueprint as it moves forward on its compassionate community strategic objective.
It’s a sweeping paper with many more objectives than just a homeless shelter.
The most immediate action point involves the city entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.

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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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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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Does preserving railway heritage in St. Thomas merit property tax relief?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes.
Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief.
While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters.
In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council.
Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”

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Capping community grants the opening salvo in 2018 mayoral race?


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a budget body slam last night (Dec. 18) in the council chamber at city hall. A bloc of five councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Heather Jackson as to who is behind the wheel on budget deliberations. Or at least the community grant portion of the 2018 city budget.
Councillors Steve Wookey, Joan Rymal, Mark Burgess, Mark Tinlin and Gary Clarke voted to adopt the budget as is. The 2018 financial roadmap for the city included a $60,000 cap on community grants to any one group or organization.
Jackson is opposed to a grant cap and therefore was in opposition to approving the budget as is.
She did a little politicking of her own by asking for a recorded vote so those associated with the Talbot Teen Centre (TTC) and St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre – two pet projects – would be well aware of her sympathy. Continue reading

Are we being led down the wrong rabbit path on utility marriage? Or, how to distinguish a merger from a fire sale.


city_scope_logo-cmykDid you check out the notice in your latest St. Thomas Energy bill? Seems like the utility merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent is moving toward consummation early in the new year, with the new entity to be known as Entegrus Powerlines.
I guess when you only have a 20 per cent piece of the pie you don’t have any say in naming the beast.
And by coincidence, the merger is the subject of a report from city manager Wendell Graves on Monday’s council agenda.
It’s chock full of legalese and ratepayers have the right to a clear explanation of what is about to transpire on the eve of the merger.
More important, what are the long-term financial implications because this appears to be less a merger and more a fire sale.
So, we chatted with Graves on Friday as to what members of council are being asked to vote on as our elected representatives. Continue reading

Mergers are all about creating efficiencies, so who will be left at the alter in health unit marriage?


city_scope_logo-cmykFriday’s announcement of the proposed merger of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health and Oxford County Public Health – which aligns with the province’s call for fewer health units with autonomous boards – is, no doubt, intended to create efficiencies.
Such is the desired effect of any merger, no matter the business sector.
To quote the media release, the two health units “began exploring a potential merger as a way of working towards a strong, unified rural voice for public health in Ontario.”
To further quote from the release, “The intent to merge was formalized through a letter of intent signed by Oxford County Warden David Mayberry on November 8 and Elgin St. Thomas Board of Health Chair Bernie Wiehle on November 9. The letter of intent commits both organizations to a review of each other’s finances, operations and assets; to equally sharing any costs associated with the merger; and to pursuing the necessary statutory and regulatory change at the provincial level before the merger becomes official.” Continue reading