No islands in these streams, just a series of HR obstacles


city_scope_logo-cmykCongratulations are in order to Elizabeth Sebestyen, confirmed this week as the Director of Social Services for St. Thomas and Elgin county.
She has been acting director since 2013 and has worked for the department since 2001.
And why did it take so long to announce the permanent appointment?
Well you won’t get any answers at city hall, because it involved a protracted labour relations tribunal dealing with a wrongful dismissal claim by former director Barbara Arbuckle, hired in 2011.
A conversation a year ago with city manager Wendell Graves revealed the following.
“I can’t say a lot but she’s (Sebestyen) still the acting director and Barbara is still on leave.” Continue reading

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Can a bus ride begin the journey out of poverty?


city_scope_logo-cmykAmong the positive steps taken this year in St. Thomas to help mitigate poverty’s impact on Ontario Works recipients was the introduction in February of the Bus Pass Pilot Project.
Under this scheme, recipients seeking employment would have access to a monthly bus pass, recognizing “Access to reliable and affordable transportation is integral to a person’s ability to gain and maintain employment, to access health care, recreational, educational and social activities among other things.”
That is according to a report from Heather Sheridan, supervisor of employment and income supports, to be discussed at Monday’s council meeting.
She is asking council to continue the bus pass program and extend it further to include sole support parents and their children. Continue reading

Will transit continue to take a back seat in St. Thomas?


city_scope_logo-cmykFor those who rely on St. Thomas Transit, change may be a passenger in the coming year.
The transit contract with Voyageur – originally in effect Jan. 1, 2012 – expires at the end of the year and the city has the option to enter into a three-year extension.
The transit system was up for discussion at council’s Nov. 20 reference committee meeting at city hall, where the director of environmental services, Justin Lawrence, brought mayor and council up to speed on the five-route system.
In 1989 the hub and spoke system operated with traditional transit buses on a 45-minute cycle over a 14-hour day, Monday through Saturday.
Today, the same hub and spoke system operates 11.5 hours per day (except Sunday) on a 30-minute cycle utilizing buses not far removed from RV’s that struggle to remain in one piece over what appears to be a five-year life span. Continue reading

Will Ontario’s new minimum wage result in maximum economic stress for school bus operators?


city_scope_logo-cmykAs debate swirls around the province’s decision to raise the minimum wage in stages, beginning Jan. 1 of next year, the Kathleen Wynne government has not taken into account the impact on school bus operators, most notably small, independent firms that have safely transported students back and forth to classes for decades.
The Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) estimates nearly one million Ontario families rely on school buses to get their children to school. The Wynne government’s push to hike the minimum wage could threaten the availability of bus service in the coming year. Continue reading

More sensitivity and less stunt when reaching out to the homeless


city_scope_logo-cmykThe promotion was called Sleepless In Our City, a well-intentioned fundraiser for the United Way of Elgin-St. Thomas. In capsule form, former MP Joe Preston and Tim Smart, the regional sales manager for a couple of local radio stations, were going to bundle up and spend the night sleeping – if possible – in the back seat of their respective cars. In the case of Tim, a Honda Civic.
(Full disclosure here, I spent several years as a volunteer on the United Way campaign cabinet and the entire team is to be applauded for raising in excess of $485,000 in this year’s campaign, as announced Friday evening.)
The media release from the United Way noted, “In Elgin St. Thomas, 20% of home owners and 42% of renters were spending more than 30% of their household income on shelter costs.”

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Nothing says summer like a circus under the big top


city_scope_logo-cmykThere’s no denying he’s chuffed an authentic, European-style circus will entertain at a dozen performances this summer in St. Thomas. But what really has Sean Dyke pumped is the big top tent under which it will perform.
Massive may be a more apt descriptor. The tent is 16,000 square feet in size, holds in excess 0f 2,000 in grandstand seating and 1,000 for catered events. The stage measures 1,260 square feet.
Now those are numbers the general manager over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can really sink this teeth into. A tent with those dimensions shouts possibilities.
Of course the touring Canadian-Swiss Dream Circus – billed on its website as “incredible displays of acrobatic, balance, aerial stunts and thrilling acts” – will occupy the Railway City Big Top for two weekends in August, that’s a done deal.

Bankruptcy an undesirable fare at Cox Cabs


city_scope_logo-cmykAn independent player in the movement of people and parcels around St. Thomas and environs since 1944, taxis branded as Cox Cabs picked up their last fare early this year.
A victim of a market re-brand or idled by bankruptcy?
The former, insists owner Jamie Donnelly, who purchased Cox Cabs from the late Terry Banghart in 2011. Banghart took part ownership of the company in 1993 and sole ownership in 2003. He began as a driver with the firm in 1973.
“We started re-branding about three months ago and we have completed it now,” Donnelly told City Scope recently.

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