MPP Jeff Yurek’s winding down decree has conservation authorities winding up pushback efforts

city_scope_logo-cmykIs 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.

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COP’s soon to be the eyes and ears of St. Thomas Police Service

city_scope_logo-cmykFollowing a year that saw a record number of reportable incidents and operating at minimal staffing levels, the city’s police chief is undertaking an innovative approach to maintaining the overall safety of St. Thomas residents.
That means putting more COP’s on the street.
Although, that’s not what you think and, no, the police budget is not going to absorb a beating.
The COP’s, in this case, are Citizens on Patrol.
The program – to be launched later this spring – is modelled after an existing undertaking in Brantford which provides “a visible presence in the community while fostering partnerships with Brantford Police Services, local businesses and residential areas, to identify and expand opportunities to deter criminal activity and reduce crime,” according to the service website.
The COP volunteers – more than 100 now in the program – act as goodwill ambassadors who “foster positive contact with members of the community. COP’s will act as non-confrontational observers and report suspicious behaviour.”
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City of St. Thomas named in $7.8 million lawsuit over decision to wind down Ascent Renewables

city_scope_logo-cmykThe recent merger of Ascent/St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus Powerlines appears to have done little to unplug the city from controversial business decisions previously undertaken by the utility.
As a case in point, on Monday (Oct. 15), the city was named in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
The City of St. Thomas, Ascent Renewables, Ascent Group Inc, Ascent Energy Services and a numbered company, 2154310 Ontario Inc., are being sued for general damages in the amount of $7,850,000 by a numbered company, 1787868, operating as Focus Group based in London.
The statement of claim was filed at the Elgin County Courthouse.
All of the defendants are ultimately owned and controlled by the city.
According to the claim, nearly 20 years ago the city undertook an initiative identified as “Partners in Power.” Through its ownership and funding provided by St. Thomas Energy Inc., the city created a series of corporations to allow it to attempt to capitalize on growth opportunities and become more involved in the growing renewable energy sector.
These corporations included Ascent Energy Services Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Energy Services Inc., STESI) and Ascent Group Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Holding Inc., STHI). These companies operated under the name Ascent Group, with all shares controlled by the city.

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Entegrus merger presentation the equivalent of football’s two-minute, hurry-up offense

city_scope_logo-cmykAny concerns about having to endure a lengthy dissertation from Rob Kent of Entegrus on the utility merger with St. Thomas Energy were quickly put to rest Monday evening.
And, we do mean quickly.
His presentation on the 15-month process to complete the merger, which was executed on April 1 of this year, came in at four seconds shy of two minutes.
That’s right, two minutes, with little in the way of enlightenment or answers to the many questions surrounding what is more a fire sale than a merger.
The city gets a 20.57 per cent stake in Entegrus Inc., meaning we will have little say in the operation of the entity. Continue reading

A return to core business or fire sale at Ascent?

Couldn’t help but notice this week the Ascent office/workshop on Harper Rd. was not only for sale, but now had a ‘sold’ sign out front.
Seems odd in that the media were invited out to that same location earlier this year to get a first-hand look at the projects undertaken at the former ECM Controls, purchased by St. Thomas Energy in November, 2010.
At that time, ECM Controls employed 10 people who designed and built industrial controls. As shareholder and owner of St. Thomas Holding (the parent company), city council unanimously green-lighted the move, asking no questions nor providing comment on the move.
So what happened in the intervening five years? Continue reading

Wrong time and place for Ald. Yusuf to editorialize


While his message of outrage and disgust may have been well aimed, Ald. Sam Yusuf’s diatribe on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was totally out of place Monday in the council chamber.
The complex Gaza turmoil is far outside the realm of council’s mandate and to take this time to editorialize in front of a large group of army cadets shows poor judgment on the part of Yusuf.
He would do well to channel his energy into municipal matters like attending hospital board meetings, from which he has been missing in action for months.
It is no secret he does not intend to seek re-election. Put the last two years of this term to good use. Represent the interests of constituents who voted for you – and those who didn’t.
After all, Ald. Yusuf, you were not elected to office to broker Middle East peace.

A week ago in this corner, we engaged in dialogue with St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Paul Collins following announcement the facility had been recognized for its efforts in trimming ER wait times which you can read here.
We pick up the conversation this week with an explanation from Collins on the rapid assessment zone (RAZ) and its role in the ER which will further help clarify wait times.
“We’ll have people who come in,” explains Collins, detailing visits to the ER from individuals who will undergo assessment, treatment and then be released, “and rather than clogging up the emergency department specifically, they go this rapid assessment zone where they can get a quick assessment and then they are released.
“Generally, these are patients who are not admitted. So, one of the problems we experience is in how people experience this. If you are someone who wouldn’t be appropriate in going to the RAZ because your situation is a little more concerning, then you may be in the waiting room waiting to get into emergency proper while you see someone come into emergency who may not look very serious but they are taken in the other way (through RAZ) right away.”
It can result in the perception those with less of an issue are getting attended to faster, Collins points out.
“In the end,” Collins continues, “it keeps those folks out of emergency proper and clogging it up even further. We certainly have had people comment on that. In the moment, in can be pretty disconcerting.”
In other words, movement through ER is not a care of first in, first out.
“The RAZ has certainly helped ensure the waiting room is not clogging up and folks are getting seen relatively quickly and on their way. In most cases the issues they come in with are not that complicated.”
As he is acutely aware, there will always be grumbling about wait times, however Collins and his front-line staff are putting time and thought into making life in the ER more bearable.
They’ve got the recognition from their peers to back that up.

One of the charges laid by the RCMP this week against London Mayor Joe Fontana is breach of trust by a public official, in relation to a cheque issued as a deposit on a wedding reception.
Here in St. Thomas, Ald. Tom Johnston received Detroit Red Wings’ season tickets valued at a similar amount as compensation for serving as board chairman of St. Thomas Energy/Ascent, in direct contravention of a city bylaw prohibiting remuneration of any sort.
Is that not a breach of trust by a public official who continues to sit and vote on city business?
Ald. Johnston has so far refused to publicly acknowledge this under-the-table compensation he orchestrated with former Ascent CEO Brian Hollywood.
Likewise, he has steadfastly refused to pay back the monetary value of the tickets.
As frustrating as that is, equally baffling is the fact no member of council has challenged Johnston in open session to account for this transgression and have him commit to a repayment schedule.
Who exactly is looking out for city ratepayers here?
Or as one T-J reader, chubby 7880, succinctly posted on our website: “City council members and the Mayor should keep in mind – tick the people of St. Thomas off … you only get 1 term. We voted you IN!!!…. we can vote you OUT!!!!!”

A month ago, we speculated on the appearance of a toxic atmosphere in the environmental services department at city hall, similar to the cancerous environment nine years ago in the treasury department involving harassment of staff.
Is that the root cause behind the departure last month of operations and compliance manager Edward Soldo for greener pastures in London as director of roads and transportation?
That’s the loss of another huge city asset and if it was prompted by a philosophical clash in the bowels of city hall, then we definitely are regressing back in time.

“(The bus) is picking the individual up two hours or three hours before their actual appointment and dropping them off so that poor individual is left sitting three hours in a doctor’s office waiting for their appointment so there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong here right now in the present system.”
Ald. Dave Warden on deficiencies in the city’s paratransit system that are again dogging city council and staff.

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

Thank goodness they only lost some money


It seems like just yesterday that Ald. Gord Campbell made this observation regarding Ascent, formerly St. Thomas Holdings Inc.
“I can’t support this recommendation. St. Thomas Holdings had a difficult year, lost some money.”
Campbell was referring to a council vote a month or so ago on whether the Ascent board of directors should receive a hike in remuneration. Board members currently receive in the neighbourhood of $8,500 for attending 10 or so meetings a year and then chairman, Ald. Tom Johnston, was seeking an unspecified increase in that compensation.
Thankfully, council was united in deep-sixing the motion.
But, when Campbell notes they “lost some money,” how much might that be?
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Transit overhaul may prove uncomfortable not just to riders


Public transit comes under the scope Monday at city hall and
when council finishes digesting an operational review, the wheels on the bus will turn less frequently.

In a comprehensive report from Edward Soldo, city manager of operations and compliance, council will be asked to endorse a series of recommendations that will radically
alter the transit framework in St.Thomas.

Soldo is calling for the provision of transit services — currently the domain of Aboutown Transportation of London — to be tendered, with a request for proposal (RFP) to be
brought before council in September.
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Who pays for multi-million-dollar streetscape makeover?

An ambitious proposal to beautify the downtown streetscape is a winner in all regards, with one notable exception.

The expected price tag of close to $9 million will likely ensure this vision will shine no further than the bookshelf where so many other studies and reports reside.

The twin roadblocks of the city’s ever-burgeoning debt load and that queasy feeling associated with selling this to constituents in an election year are formidable obstacles to conquer.

Right plan, wrong time.

Shelling out millions for trees, flowers and upgrades to infrastructure to ensure Christmas lights twinkle along Talbot is a tough sell when St. Thomas is treading to stay afloat economically.
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