It all started with a high school geography course so many years ago.
As city manager Wendell Graves reflected back on his years of public service on Feb. 25, his final day at city hall, his attention turned to a particular field trip that would be “the ignition point” for what would become a four-decade career path.
“Don Cann was the teacher and he brought us on an afternoon field trip to city hall and specifically to the planning department. And that was my initial ignition point. I had never been in city hall before.
“My roots are in the city. I graduated eons ago from Locke’s Public School and then Arthur Voaden and the influence those institutions had on my career path has been tremendous.
“I give a shout out to all those kids who sit behind those desks or in front of a screen. There is so much opportunity here in the city for them to grow their careers and that is really important.
“And a fulfilling career as well.”
There is a 29-year-old St. Thomas resident who has been arrested 29 times since 2019, with 77 Criminal Code charges, 34 of those related to property crime, six related to trespassing, four drug-related charges and 39 fail-to-comply charges.
Twenty-six of those were withdrawn. And overall, 45 charges were withdrawn.
St. Thomas Police have checked on this individual’s well-being 19 times, including for overdoses and that person was reported to police 63 times as an unwanted or suspicious person because that person experienced homelessness or still does.
As they say on television crime dramas, those are the facts.
However, this is a real-life situation and not drawn from a reality show.
And it’s the type of ongoing police interaction that has St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calling for a two-stream justice system.
The city’s portion of the cost of providing court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has been steadily increasing since it first received money from the province beginning in 2012. That year, the province contributed $75,224. The net budgeted costs to provide the service this year is just over $1 million, with the province providing the city with a grant of $713,000 to offset the expense. That works out to just under 70 per cent of the total cost, down from 74 per cent last year and 83 per cent in 2018. That diminishing financial support was the topic of discussion at a council meeting earlier this month when members unanimously supported a motion to craft a letter to both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and MPP Jeff Yurek outlining concerns on the mounting court security costs and to seek their assistance in having the province review this matter.
The past few days were a good news/bad news rollercoaster ride for the St. Thomas Police Service. On the positive side, the service was the recipient of $870,000 in provincial dollars under the new Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant program over the next three years. In total, the province is investing $195 million in the initiative. According to a media release announcing the investment, the police service “is collaborating with several community agencies to better support survivors of human trafficking as they go through the investigative process. “The funding will help provide ongoing training to enhance frontline officers’ knowledge and abilities in supporting survivors, add a new Street Crimes police officer, provide the necessary resources to maintain the position of Technological Crimes Investigator and help develop a social media awareness campaign to encourage the public to be an active police partner on the issue of human trafficking.”
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. “Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.” The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St. The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street. With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members. The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor. The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.
Is another provincial backtrack in the offing? On Aug. 16 MPP Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, conservation and parks, noted in a statement, he is working “to improve public transparency and consistency” in dealings between municipalities and the conservation authorities. Yurek continued, “The legislative changes we’ve made ensure conservation authorities focus on delivering core services and programs that protect communities from natural hazards and flooding while using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively.” Last week in this corner, we questioned the impact this legislation would have on events such as the maple syrup festival hosted by the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority (CCCA)at Springwater Conservation Area. Well, what should appear in the agenda package for Tuesday’s (Sept. 3) city council meeting but a letter from Rick Cerna, CCCA board chairman and Ward 3 councillor in Malahide Township.
As he stressed in his inaugural address on Dec. 3 of last year, smart growth in St. Thomas can be achieved through co-operation and open communication with neighbouring communities. Mayor Joe Preston reiterated that mantra Thursday (Feb. 28) at the State of the Municipalities luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre. Joined by Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn and Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Preston stressed a healthy, expanding regional economy can be nurtured via a co-operative effort with the city’s neighbours. “We are much stronger when we all work together,” Preston advised the business and community leaders in attendance. “Will it be accomplished during our terms in office? Yes it will and we all are working together.” That need for co-operation and communication was one of four key areas Preston stressed need to be addressed during his term in office.
In a recent survey of female MPs conducted by Canadian Press, more than half (58 per cent) reported having personally experienced some form of sexual misconduct during their term in office. The process for handling complaints of harassment – established in 2014 – was considered difficult to evaluate by one-third of respondents. They called it a first step, but insufficient on its own. But perhaps the real story emanating from the survey is the fact only 38 of 89 female MPs took the time to participate in the voluntary, anonymous survey. One who chose not to respond was Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, Karen Vecchio. We caught up with her this week and she offered some candid insight into sexual harassment, an obstacle she has not faced in politics. Continue reading →