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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ferguson Finally Testifies

After over 40 days of testimony, John Ferguson finally took to the stand at his defamation trial this afternoon. His lawyer, Rod Gillis, had the former common councillor outline legal battle has effected him, before launching into the pension debacle.

Ferguson said the trial has been “difficult,” and effected his job as as St Stephen's chief administrative officer. He said the town gave him 6 weeks paid leave to attend the trial, but as it drew on it came out of his vacation time. He says with 3 young children, one of whom has Down's Syndrome, the trial has presented challenges to his family life. Later on Ferguson appealed to the jury saying he was just as overwhelmed by data as they while he was on council.

Later on, Ferguson called the information former Finance Commissioner Andrew Beckett's provided to councillors on the pension plan a basic overview that didn't much help his understanding. He said Beckett's presentation glossed over the problems, and he felt they needed more information from qualified professionals to back up their actions. He felt uncomfortable simply following recommendations from staff and waiting because he felt councillors weren't adequately protected in case things went wrong.

Mayoral Candidate Decides To Run For Council Instead

The political race for mayor and council has taken a new twist -- Graeme Stewart-Robertson has decided to pursue a spot on Common Council rather than the mayor's seat.

He tells CHSJ News he feels he can make the most impact as a city councillor by being able to make motions and make submissions.

He says the slew of candidates could lead to a very productive council.

He adds he initially ran for Mayor because no one else had thrown their hat into the ring.

Man Dies Near Passekeag Today

A 58 year old man died after a single vehicle crash this morning on the Passekeag Road.

RCMP found a vehicle on its roof in a wooded area next to the road about 9:40 this morning.

The driver, who was the only person in vehicle, died at the scene and he was wearing a seatbelt at the time.

Police Commission Willing To Help Out With Possible Communication Issue

With the police union accusing the Chief of Police of being uncooperative and non-communicative with its members, where does that leave the police commission?

Commission Chairman Chris Waldschutz tells CHSJ News he is willing to hear from all sides and moves things forward if necessary.

But he adds the issue may not be so cut and dry as every side to the story has a certain degree of spin.

Uptown Business Closing Next Month

After 28 years in operation including 20 years on King Street, an Uptown business is closing its doors for a few reasons.
Pictures Plus owner Diana Alexander tells CHSJ News she's is approaching retirement and she also learned of a 40 per cent increase in her rent starting April 1st.

She says it would take a year or two to sell it and moving to a new location would cost up to $30,000 to do it well so she decided it was time to retire and the store will close for good at the end of May.

Alexander adds she wasn't pleased when the City increased parking rates and fees uptown adding it sends the wrong message to consumers.

Rothesay Gets Glowing Report On Its Finances

The town of Rothesay is in solid financial shape.......That word delivered to town council by its auditors and the timing couldn't be better for Mayor Bill Bishop who's running for re-election. 

The town's debt servicing ratio is 6.6 per cent which is lower than the provincial average of 11.3 per cent and the Mayor says the town is also in good shape with it somes to its pension liability, especially as compared to other municipalities.
The auditors report the town's revenues are continuing to increase because of growth which they warn will have to be managed. 

Town Council has been told a fifth building being proposed for Marr Road and Hampton Road has been put on hold pending a traffic study.

City Solicitor Finishing Up Gruelling Cross Examination

City Solicitor John Nugent coming under fire at the defamation trial of former Common Councillor John Ferguson. 

His lawyer Rod Gillis suggested the changes being proposed now to the city's pension plan could have been made back in 2003 but that would have adversely affected Nugent's own pension and that of then City Manager Terry Totten.

Nugent revealing the Superintendent of Pensions still hasn't signed off on those recommended changes. He's also unsure whether the M-L-A who had agreed to sponsor a private members bill to make the changes is still prepared to do so. Nugent couldn't give Gillis an answer when asked if all the civic unions are on board.

The jury has seen video of a Common Council meeting that shows other Council members were also concerned about the early retirement buyouts and city pension plan.
Then Common Councillor Ivan Court is shown agreeing with some of the things Ferguson was saying about the cost of the early retirement packages. 

Councillor Bill Farren expresses support for Ferguson saying there was mass confusion, mixed messages, walls being put up and city staff not wanting to give information to the extent he was beginning to suspect things and those raising questions were accused of nit picking.

Mayor's Leadership Style Questioned

Mayor Ivan Court getting a bit of a critique of his leadership style as the May election approaches. Councillor Gary Sullivan motioned in common council the mayor's ability to vote be curtailed, allowing council to focus more on consensus building.

Councillor Mel Norton, who is running for mayor, suggested voters would appreciate a mayor who was listening impartially instead of always jumping into the fray.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase said while he's had a problem with Court's tact over the years, the mayor should be able to express his opinion on the issues.

SJ Energy Gives $50K To NBCC

Higher learning in greater Saint John receiving a nice shot in the arm from Saint John Energy.
The company is donating $50,000 the New Brunswick Community College over 5 years.

The money will be used to equip the multi-purpose Public Engagement Facility which will be in the new “E” Building at NBCC Saint John opening in September.
The building will offer students and staff hands-on workshops and professional development training and also be available to business and industry leaders.


Pedestrian Killed on Whitehead Island

District 1 RCMP Grand Manan are investigating a fatal pedestrian motor vehicle collision that occurred on April 10, 2012, at approximately 7:15 a.m., on White Head Island off the coast of grand Manan.

A 75-year-old man died as a result of the collision. Police are looking into what caused the crash.

New Home Construction Lagging

        New home construction remains flat in the greater Saint John area – the latest numbers from Canada Mortgage and Housing show five new units started last month down from 10-units in the same month last year.

         Overall – the federal housing agency reports new housing starts off by ten percent in the first quarter of this year compared to last year.

         Moncton remains the hotspot for new home construction with 110-new units under construction in the first quarter of this year compared to 13-last year.

John Ferguson Defamation Trial

Council Debates Options for Safe Water

Common council considering going for a public private partnership for the city's water. While the resource itself would stay in the public domain, City manager Pat Woods sugesting certain plants, distribution systems, and equipment be opened up to private hands as a way of generating revenue.

Mayor Ivan Court emphasized the city will always control its own water supply.

Patty Higgins says water provides big bucks to all levels of government and a public private partnership wouldn't be appropriate. Councillor Mel Norton disagreed, saying a P3 would bring us closer to safe, clean drinking water which is what the electorate wants.

West Side Businessman To Be Laid To Rest Friday

Funeral arrangements have been finalised for Andy Hughes, who owned and operated the Pet Corral stores on the west side and in Quispamsis. 

He died in an A-T-V crash over the Easter weekend. 

His funeral will be held 2:00 Friday afternoon at St. Mark's United Church on Dexter Drive.

Hughes is survived by his wife Carol and two daughters.

Core City Services Facing Cuts Without Changes To Pension Plan

We're looking at deep cuts to core services unless the province grants us pension reform.

That warning from City Manager Pat Woods, presenting a document to Common Council outlining what will happen if the city does have to face a $4 million dollar shortfall. 

If reform isn't approved, the city will be looking at more reductions to fire services, libraries, and roads.
Mayor Ivan Court emphasized that the city is actively working to finalize the needed reform, meaning most of the cuts likely won't happen.
Councillor Gary Sullivan referred to the review of core services as a "dark exercise"--but he and a number of councillors agreed that some of the cuts would make sense whether reform is granted or not. 

Woods is calling the review a balancing act between affordability for taxpayers and sustainabily for the beneficaries of the pension plan.