So, who really is behind the wheel of the city hall bus? It may not be who you think.

city_scope_logo-cmykQuite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March.
Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley.
Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring.
“The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves.
In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.”
Did you catch the common theme here?
Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager.
Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council.
After all, isn’t that why we elect them?

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After all these years, is there a move afoot to pare the size of St. Thomas city council?

city_scope_logo-cmykSize does, in fact, matter.
That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall.
The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.”
The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”
The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.

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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.


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


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


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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Unlike London, carding is not a trending topic in St. Thomas

city_scope_logo-cmykIt was what we called in radio, a cluster-buster.

A Tweet from Police Chief Darryl Pinnell Friday morning sure cut through the clutter.

“Let the @STPSmedia “Collection of Identifying Information in Certain Circumstances” training begin!” proclaimed the message, with accompanying photo.

Sounded for all the world like they’re delving into carding, a trending topic up the road in London.

A phone call to St. Thomas Police media contact, Const. Jeff DeLeeuw, confirmed they were in training but it’s not what you think. Continue reading

It’s five o’clock boys, put down the hoses


Members of the city’s police and fire service account for an overwhelming majority of members in the Sunshine Club each year and 2014 was no exception.

Of the 96 city employees who earned greater than $100,000 last year, 81 work are based at the police station or fire halls.

This corner talked at length last week with Chief Darryl Pinnell who made it very clear, “A lot of it has to do with base salaries now. Things are getting up to the point where base salaries are getting close to that ($100,000) number.”

Likewise, we had a lengthy dialogue with Chief Rob Broadbent on the factors impacting the salaries of firefighters.

“If you look at the Sunshine List this year, you’re going to see a number of firefighters on it versus officers. It’s not uncommon for our officers to be there just by pay grids. Tack a few call-back fires or overtime shifts on top of an officer’s salary and it doesn’t take very much for them to bump over the $100,000 threshold.”
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Let’s have a committee struck to look into that


Prior to this corner embarking on a summer hiatus a month ago, we had engaged Ald. Dave Warden in conversation regarding his motion to add an additional member to the council lineup.
The proposal was debated at the July council meeting and everything is on hold until September.
In the meantime, we checked in with Warden this week for a status update on council’s committee system, which needs a serious overhaul in his estimation.
“Come September, they’re going to review all the committees and there’s ones we shouldn’t even be sitting on. And that was my purpose to this whole thing. Let’s overhaul the committee system because there is too much redundancy and too much staff time being paid out.”
Couldn’t agree more. That’s why we love the definition of many committees: a group that keeps minutes and loses hours
It’s time for a complete review by CAO Wendell Graves and a determination as to how council somehow has been railroaded into providing a warm body to sit on an untold number of committees.
Apparently the list of committees with city representation runs to seven pages in length.
In a Monty Python world, all we need now is a committee struck to determine what to do with all the committees.
Warden figures it wouldn’t be difficult to initially trim that number by 15 to 20 groups.
To be honest, the scissors should be sharpened further.
“What has happened is every time something comes up, they form a new committee,” Warden advises. “And that’s the problem.”
Hmmm. Are we talking about something like the committee struck to look at a new indoor swimming pool, as requested earlier this year by Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands?
“If there is a group of people out there who want to look at something like an indoor pool, let them do it,” enthuses Warden.
“Let them form a committee. Bring their findings to council for its consideration. That’s the way it should be.”
Absolutely. Because whatever the proposal, it has to receive an endorsement from council.
Here’s the nitty gritty, according to Warden.
“Why do you set a committee up and appoint a council rep to it? What purpose does it serve?”
Perhaps the committees in question feel a council rep adds credibility to their cause.
Sorry, but that is not the function of our elected officials.
The bottom line – rationalize the committee commitment and you won’t need an eighth alderman.
Who knows, you may be able to trim back on council. After all, that was the key recommendation in the McCarthy-Tetrault report of 2003.

Bill Sandison has been unsuccessful in his two attempts to gain a seat on city council. However, he does have one thing in common with aldermen Jeff Kohler, Mark Cosens and Baldwin-Sands – a deep-rooted opposition to the construction of a new police headquarters.
And, in a letter to members of council, Sandison suggests the city get rid of the existing police service and rely on the OPP. As a result, no need to build a new HQ or renovate the existing facility.
Sandison points out, “The OPP is the largest police force in North America and while their officers may be the highest paid next year, having gone two years without an increase, that does not necessarily translate into the highest cost for policing services.”
He explains, “in part due to economies of scale and how responsibilities are defined, the OPP is able to offer the most cost-effective policing to many communities.”
Could St. Thomas be one of those communities?
To better understand this rationale, he refers to a document entitled “Understanding OPP Municipal Policing Costs” which can be found at
The 104-page document details how the OPP delivers policing services to 322 municipalities, on a cost-recovery basis.
Sandison notes the report was sent to Mayor Heather Jackson and is it safe to assume all members of council are familiar with it?
In conclusion, he implores “Prior to borrowing $19 million to build a new police station (as an aside, don’t believe a firm cost estimate has yet been established), it would be prudent to explore all options related to policing costs, including the cost of OPP municipal service.
“Council should ask the province for a cost-analysis of an OPP service contract for St. Thomas. Only then will council be in a position to make an informed and unbiased decision in the overall best interests of St. Thomas.”
An unlikely exercise, Bill, in the Barwick 4 era in which council now operates.

“But the focus should be on the general election coming up, not on by-elections and that’s where the party’s headed and hopefully to form a majority after the next election.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek’s take on the Progressive Conservative’s lacklustre showing in five provincial by-elections on Thursday.

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

Should we be feeding one more at the council table?


Well, this one comes right out of the blue. Tucked away at the back end of Monday’s council agenda is a notice of motion from Ald. David Warden that council consider increasing the number of aldermen to eight from the current seven.
It won’t be debated at that time but will come up for discussion at the lone July council meeting.
Much like the wrangling over the process of filling the vacant seat on council, the timing of this motion has an off odor to it.
Call for change in the middle of summer when many residents are on holiday or their attention is diverted elsewhere.
I can hear it now: Members are overworked with committee proceedings they have to deal with. Having another body on board will ease the strain.
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Does vacant seat process ‘enhance’ council integrity?

As referenced last week in this corner John Maddox, the city’s closed meeting investigator, has found no wrong-doing in the process undertaken to bring back Cliff Barwick to fill the seat vacated by Sam Yusuf at the end of April.
In his report to council, precipitated by a complaint from Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands, Maddox concludes, “I have not been able to find any substantive evidence that there in fact was a ‘private’ gathering of any sort that would suggest a closed meeting took place.”
The complaint from Baldwin-Sands suggests the faction on council known as the “Barwick 4” – Mayor Heather Jackson and aldermen Gord Campbell, Tom Johnston and Dave Warden – convened an illegal closed meeting of council.
She could not identify any specific meeting that may have taken place, but felt the process employed by the Barwick 4 on May 6 to fill the vacant seat raised suspicions that some “collaboration may have taken place between a group of council members that could be deemed to have been a meeting and in fact closed to some members of council.”
Of note, Maddox indicates he has received “numerous telephone calls regarding this matter and the process that was followed by council – all of the callers had some degree of objection to the process and outcome.”
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STEGH provides insight into chief of staff salary, VP details ‘exciting stuff’

Ten days ago – as reported last week in this space – we contacted Cathy Fox, communications and public relations specialist at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, seeking answers to the following questions.
Why doesn’t vice-president/chief of staff Nancy Whitmore’s salary appear on annual public sector salary disclosures?
And, prior his arrival at STEGH, did vice-president of corporate services Malcolm Hopkins work outside of health care in British Columbia?
We received the following detailed answer to the first query directly from hospital CEO Paul Collins.
“In 2008, STEGH undertook a recruitment process to replace the previous physician in the role of VP Medical Affairs/Chief of Staff. The successful candidate was Dr. Nancy Whitmore, the first from outside of STEGH. Dr. Whitmore had been a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist in St. Thomas in the early 1990’s before relocating to Stratford.”
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