Third-party audit at St. Thomas Early Learning Centre overshadowed by disturbing allegations


city_scope_logo-cmykWhat began this spring as a third-party audit undertaken by the city has escalated into a series of shocking and disturbing allegations and counter-allegations involving the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre – which operates childcare facilities in four different locations – and its former executive director Patricia Riddell-Laemers.
The allegations include a claim by Riddell-Laemers she was sexually assaulted by a member of the St. Thomas Police Service who was on the centre’s board of directors.
As background, City Scope was contacted in March by a former staffer at an Early Learning Centre in St. Thomas with information on the departure of Riddell-Laemers, the disbursement of top-up pay ear-marked for staff and allegations some individuals may have been wrongfully dismissed. Continue reading

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Doors closed on nominations, let the campaigning begin in earnest


city_scope_logo-cmykAs of 2 p.m. yesterday (July 27) the window of opportunity to file nomination papers for the Oct. 22 municipal vote closed. The lineups are set, let the serious campaigning begin.
There were no new additions in the mayoral race at the deadline, so incumbent Heather Jackson will be challenged by Coun. Steve Wookey, former MP Joe Preston and musician/small business advisor Malichi Male.
In the hours and days leading up to yesterday’s deadline, the ranks of councillors seeking re-election and those vying for one of eight seats up for grabs swelled to 19.
Late entries include former alderman Lori Baldwin-Sands; Lesley Buchanan, St. Thomas Cemetery Company manager; Greg Graham; Rose Gibson in her fifth attempt to gain a seat; John Laverty, long associated with St. Thomas Energy/Ascent Group; Michael Manary, who unsuccessfully campaigned in 2006 and 2014; James Murray; and Kevin Smith. Continue reading

The departure of CMHA Elgin executive director ‘moved the needle in the right direction’


city_scope_logo-cmyk“All things are positive from the get-go.”
That’s the upbeat assessment of the working environment at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association after the Southwest Local Health Integration Network took a unique approach by appointing a supervisor for the St. Thomas/Elgin operation.
That move, initiated this past spring, was prompted by the report from healthcare consultant Ron McRae which pointed to numerous issues of poor governance and a lack of oversight.
Things had sunk to such a level last October that an information picket was held outside the Centre Street office in St. Thomas by staff – represented by OPSEU Local 133 – who claimed they were working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. Continue reading

‘You really don’t want labour unrest,’ given Ontario’s new political climate


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter considerable negotiations, a settlement has been reached in a labour dispute involving staff at Closing the Gap in St. Thomas.
On May 2, a final offer from the employer was presented to OPSEU members who unanimously turned down the deal.
The outstanding issue remained wages, with Closing the Gap earning, on average, $165 per client visit while paying their employees $46 to $48 per visit, some of those lasting almost two hours.
Lynne Easter, staff representative at the OPSEU London Regional Office, confirmed Wednesday (June 27) “We reached a deal . . . and it was ratified by the membership on Monday (June 25).”
The deal was reached through mediation and members “voted overwhelmingly in favour. The reality is nobody wanted a strike. And, given the current political climate, under the newly elected government, public servants are fearful in terms of anyone working for a public dollar is conscientious of that. You really don’t want labour unrest.” Continue reading

‘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