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Opinion: Dave Dale, City has vast reserves of untapped ‘cynicism’

Perhaps it’s time to change the rules for being elected to municipal office? Maybe a councillor should have to fulfil at least one term before applying for a job at the city?
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The metamorphism of politicians shouldn't be such a surprise these days.

North Bay spends a lot of time and resources trying to lure investment to the area. It’s willing to do just about anything, as recent history shows.

The economic development goal is to broaden the tax base and increase employment to support municipal infrastructure and services for residents. That’s how city councillors have been able to keep property tax bills as low as they are now.

Millions of those dollars have been spent over the years to leverage and promote its assets. At the same time, the city offers support to existing businesses so they can survive and thrive. The downtown core is a testament to that success.

The ‘Invest North Bay’ effort, while flawed in approach, execution and many metrics, is an example of how the community is willing to bet on itself and the people who count. As Kenny Rogers says, however, you have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. Eventually, we’ll find out if chips were left on the table after the dealing was done.

It’s the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of North Bay, however, that impresses me the most.

A lot of people were upset about the news last Friday about the city hiring a council member to be an economic development officer. They say Marcus Tignanelli, elected by 4,630 voters in the 2018 municipal poll, had an unfair ‘insiders’ advantage and didn’t meet the job description requirements.

Claims of nepotism and conflict of interest were shared on social media. They focussed on his former position as a member of the Invest North Bay board, which decided in the face of intense scrutiny to move its economic development marketing in-house. It’s not clear if he voted on the decision to create the position, although there’s no conflict to declare when it comes to the future.

The fact the city reimbursed him for the online ec-dev certificate courses as professional development, raised more than few eyebrows too.

Again, there’re no rules being broken. Tignanelli, a hairstylist in the city, proved to be a hard-working and enterprising individual. He put a lot of effort into his committee work, including several projects benefitting the arts and culture sectors. The bike lanes and beautification campaigns make the city look progressive and may help tourism.

It’s very conceivable that this young man is an excellent hire for the city and he could bring the energy, enthusiasm and attitude that will lead to great things.

I know that public office was frustrating him. It showed during the endless Zoom meetings and Tignanelli expressed as much, noting the criticism levelled at council and its members was demoralizing.

“It is time for all of us to look in the mirror; reflect, seek to understand others' perspectives and show mutual respect for opposing opinions,” he stated when announcing that he was quitting as a councillor to take the city position.

As long as the second-place finisher in the interview process wasn’t better qualified with solid references, that statement will age well.

A lot of the abuse elected officials and city staff take online is definitely beyond the pale. That same disrespect can be seen in live-action as the mobs of mean and manner-less heckle Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau during the federal election campaign. He deserves criticism but these ‘people’ are leaping over the line of civility.

Truth be told, nobody can blame Tignanelli for taking his chosen path. He’s not the first person to seek public office and then make upwardly mobile decisions mid-term.

Trudeau, as one of many examples on the national and provincial front, is less than halfway into his mandate and obviously willing to risk everything for more power and influence.

Locally, it’s almost a rite of passage.

Mayor Al McDonald was still dusting off his first budget as deputy mayor when he ran for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2002 by-election after Ontario Premier and long-time Nipissing MPP Mike Harris stepped down.

Peter Chirico, soon after being elected as the deputy mayor for the third time in 2012, stepped into a city position as the community services manager. Before that, after winning the top spot for the first time in 2004, Chirico stepped down to run unsuccessfully in the 2006 federal election. The only thing he hasn't run for yet is the mayor's chair.

Also stepping away from a council term soon after winning a seat in 2018 was Mark King, who tried hard to be the federal Con candidate here in the 2019 election and settled for a losing proposition with the fledgling People's Party.

And most recently, as far as political leap-frogging goes, first-timer councillor Scott Robertson is seeking a House of Commons office under the NDP banner on the September 20 federal ballot. At least Robertson fulfilled his municipal election campaign promise to step down from his public library job when elected to council.

To summarize, Tignanelli did exactly what people expect from politicians these days. At least he served three of the four years of the term on council, which is more than most. And he actually bettered himself while in the post with continuing education.

Unfortunately, justly or not, he’ll probably serve as a lightning rod for those cynical souls who have lost faith in politicians and civic institutions.

Perhaps it’s time to change the rules for being elected to municipal office? Maybe a councillor should have to fulfil at least one term before applying for a job with the city? And if a person gets elected to a subsequent term, maybe they have to serve at least half of it before either applying for a municipal job or running for another level of office?

If not, North Bay should at least consider employing a movie producer to shoot a reality show or sitcom here. There are many assets in North Bay, the geography and natural setting among the most compelling. But there’s also a motherlode of grumpy disillusionment spawned by real-life political machinations.

We should tap into this deep vein of cynicism and capitalize on the sardonic reality that is the Gateway of the North.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses related to his work can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website