Will new council game plan lead to efficiencies?


Mayor Heather Jackson alluded to changes in her 2014 mayoral campaign and a report last fall on restructuring of at least one department at city hall recommended a re-think in how council conducts business.
A new game plan saw the light of day Thursday at a special meeting called to solicit dialogue on a proposed overhaul of council’s committee structure.
Currently, a system of seven standing committees is employed to deal with finance and administration; human resources; environmental services; protective services; community services; planning and development; and social services.
Business relating to each of these committees is managed within committee of the whole during regular meetings of council.
Under the new system presented by Jackson and CAO Wendell Graves, the seven committees will be scrapped in favour of four reference committees that would undertake discussions dealing with strategic community development and planning; community engagement and services; infrastructure management and civic operations; and local government and administration. Continue reading

Is new-look council an improved model?


Not only will it be a new-look council on Dec. 1, the method in which our municipal representatives conduct city business is about to be overhauled.

We talked with Mayor Heather Jackson on Friday to get a sense of her expectations as head of a council comprised of a sole returnee.

“I see this all as opportunities. I don’t see any challenges. There is a lot of learning that is going to happen in a short period of time.”

To assist with the formidable learning curve, Jackson and CAO Wendell Graves are establishing an online resource centre for the six new aldermen.
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You have a cold, city council will have a code


Mayor Heather Jackson’s announcement at the close of Monday’s council meeting is, if anything, long overdue. In fact, her first step in establishing a code of conduct for city council is a process that should have been jump-started ten years ago during the bitter debate over a new twin-pad arena for St. Thomas.
If you ever bump into former alderman Sharon Crosby, have her recount the tale of why she didn’t cast a vote on the final arena motion.
What prompted Heather’s motion to initiate a code of conduct – among several factors – is the drip, drip, drip of leaked information trickling out from in-camera council meetings.
That is why she has turned to CAO Wendell Graves and Human Resources Director Graham Dart to craft a binding document designed to keep this and future councils on the straight and narrow.
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A sorry case of the city bargaining in bad faith


In the big picture, it’s chump change – $254, which is a miniscule amount to have to go to battle with the city.
But to a tiny sports organization like St. Thomas Thunder Ringette, a couple of hundred bucks is a big deal.
That’s the total of the cleaning bill they faced after their equipment, housed in a storage room in the Timken Centre, turned into a moldy mess over the summer thanks to serious humidity/condensation problems in the eight-year-old facility.
Thunder president Dwayne Foshay felt his organization was fully justified in handing over the cleaning bill to the city.
In a letter to Mayor Heather Jackson, Foshay stressed “We weren’t notified of any water/ condensation issues from the arena staff, but plans were put in place by the same staff to open locker room doors and add fans in the halls for the arena areas that they would look after to deal with the issue.”
Foshay has photos of attempts made by city staff to eliminate, or at least minimize, moisture damage.
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Filling vacant seat will be a true test of this council


When city council next gathers at city hall on May 6, the seat previously occupied by Sam Yusuf will officially be declared vacant. Council will then have 60 days, under the Ontario Municipal Act, to appoint a new alderman.
It’s an undertaking that has been dealt with several times in the past decade or so, however T-J reporter and People columnist Eric Bunnell reminds us of the fascinating parallel he wrote about in April, 2000.
Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Jeff Kohler should fill the vacancy.
He was the third runner-up in the 1997 municipal vote, however the top vote-getter of the also-rans, Terry Shackelton, had already moved on to council and the next individual in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment.
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Six-year saga of skating sculptures, and other stories


We’ve all heard the expression, “spending money like a drunken sailor.” That’s the common theme this week in City Scope, whether it’s questionable requests for taxpayer dollars, accountability, or “who made this financial commitment anyway?”

It all comes together like the wind and the water this Monday in the council chamber at city hall, starting with the whereabouts of two wayward sculptures.

Seems when the Timken Centre opened, the fundraising committee, under the leadership of Hilary Vaughan, commissioned $60,000 to create a donor recognition wall and fashion a pair of sculptures — a hockey player and a figure skater.

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Timken Centre deficiencies will spark debate


At its first meeting of the new year, city council will get an insight into the deficiencies encountered in the seven years since the Timken Centre opened.
The report was triggered by the failure last November of three compressor motors in less than a week, which prompted staff to bring in Ascent (formerly St. Thomas Energy) to conduct monitor the hydro supply coming into the building.
Since the $12.1 million twin-pad facility opened, there appear to have been an inordinately high number of electrical-related problems reported and upgrades undertaken.
In fact, since 2006, over $200,000 has been spent on deficiencies, including the addition of a six-ton rooftop HVAC unit right off the bat for the multi-purpose room to meet the capacity rating, at a cost of $12,500.
In 2007, close to $30,000 was spent on the replacement of a heat recovery unit and since then there have been ongoing roof repairs, ongoing repairs to the electrical wall pack and parking lot lights and replacement of various lighting units and other electrical-related components.
Staff has contacted similar-sized recreation facilities across southwestern Ontario which were built around the same time to compare maintenance costs and the Timken Centre fares on par with these venues.
While each of these facilities had their own unique issues, the Timken Centre deficiencies appear to centre on electrical-related components or systems.
The monitoring undertaken by Ascent will determine whether there are spikes in the incoming hydro service or internal electrical problems that led to the successive failure of the three compressor motors.
Or perhaps, to meet the severely stretched capital budget for the Timken Centre, were inferior electrical components installed from the get-go to meet the financial constraints?
Kinda like a whats-it off this '71 Pinto should do the trick.

Friday’s Times-Journal featured a wonderful insight into the life and career of John Wise, courtesy of People columnist Eric Bunnell. All of those polled were in agreement: the former Elgin MP was nothing short of “an honourable man.”
The tributes continue online, via the T-J website and Facebook page. Here are just a few of the personal observations.

John Wise and family in a photo taken in January, 1979, from left - Susan, 6; Elizabeth, 9; and wife, Ann Wise.

John Wise and family in a photo taken in January, 1979, from left – Susan, 6; Elizabeth, 9; and wife, Ann Wise.

Teresa L. Lunn writes, “So sorry to hear this, he was such a nice man
. . . always willing to talk to anyone (he will be truly missed). St Thomas has lost a true friend.”
“John was always a gentleman. I remember him when I was just a toddler and he called me by name. No matter how you voted, he worked for every one,” writes David Nichols.
Steve Thomas observes, “Best MP we ever had.”
“As a past Aylmer and a St. Thomas resident and knowing John, he was one of Ontario’s finest,” praises Ken Holmes.
And finally, Denise Payne opines: “John was an amazing man
. . . still have the pin i’m a wise guy . . . even though I was little I still remember sitting in his campaign office . . . RIP John . . . a well deserved rest . . . bravo!”
John should serve as the benchmark for so many of today’s egocentric politicians who are driven solely by personal gain.
To know him was to appreciate the element of class and dignity he brought to the political theatre.

Monday’s council agenda includes the 2012 semi-annual attendance scorecard, covering the period from July through December, a total of 21 meetings.
With two exceptions, members are to be commended for a perfect attendance record.
Ald. <strong>Jeff Kohler was absent for three meetings over that period of time, while Ald. Sam Yusuf was missing on four occasions or nearly 20% of the time.
No doubt this can be explained as conflicts with hospital board meetings.

Whatever happened to the metal statues of the hockey player and figure skater that were commissioned seven years ago to be housed at the front entrance of the Timken Centre?
Weren’t these to be paid for from money garnered by the arena fundraising committee?
If it is taking this long to complete the figures, they must be of an incredibly intricate design or else the size of Jumbo.

A public information session to deal with potential locations for a new skate park facility will be held Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 3 to 8 p.m. in the D.J. Tarry Room at the Timken Centre. Don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard.

“He was a man who considered public service a duty and took his role as the people’s representative very seriously.”
PC Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek pays tribute to former Elgin MP and federal agriculture minister John Wise, who died Wednesday in London at the age of 77.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

Accessibility barriers result in feeling of isolation


Prior to the Oct. 25 municipal vote, City Scope teamed up with accessibility advocate Ed McLachlan to expose members of council and aldermanic candidates to the frustrations encountered by city residents dealing with accessibility issues in their daily routine.

Bill Sandison, Wayne Northcott, Linda Stevenson, Rose Gibson, Joan Rymal, Ald. Dave Warden and Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands accepted our invitation to visit municipal facilities, including city hall, the police station, Emslie Field, Pinafore Park, the Timken Centre and St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works to discover first-hand the obstacles faced by residents wishing to enjoy events at those venues or undertake business with staff.

Whether seated in a wheelchair or peering through vision-impairing glasses, the participants were profoundly impacted.
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Inspection report points to water protocol deficiencies


A report coming to council Monday indicates the city’s water distribution system had compliance issues, albeit relatively minor, dating back to a boil water advisory issued in September of last year.

The risk to the drinking water supply was minimal, however the Ministry of the Environment water inspection report is significant in that it may prove a precursor to events emanating from two boil water advisories issued in August and September of this year.

The MOE report, issued after a May 11, 2010 inspection of the city’s water distribution system, found three non-compliance issues which did not meet regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, the final inspection rating was 94.44%.

It is the nature of the non-compliance issues that is disturbing — issues that point to weaknesses in or an absence of clear protocol for the management of the water distribution system.
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