By Johnny Destino
“(I)t is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?” – Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
When I accepted the position of Purchasing Agent with the city of Niagara Falls in the summer of 2015, it was with the idea that there are more ways to help the city than being in elected office. True, it wasn’t the position I originally interviewed for, but it was an important position nevertheless. I accomplished a lot in the first six months with the bare bones, but experienced staff.
Moving quickly, however, isn’t the way City Hall works. Rather than embrace opportunities to make positive changes, some people retreated to a defensive posture and dug in to protect their small little slices of cheese.
As the result of a poor internal communications, 2016 began with being blindsided by the departure of an eminently talented individual, who took another position in the city. In an attempt to make some lemonade, I attempted to reorganize the department to operate as efficiently as possible given the same number of full time employees. In fact, the department had been limping along short-staffed for a number of years prior to my arrival.
Now, this may surprise you, but I place much of the blame on the way the city operates on micromanaging by the City Council, not the Administration. True, the executive branch should push back, but council’s meddling in day to day operations places staff in the terrible position of having to please two masters. This promotes both paranoia and distrust among the employees. I will say right now I don’t believe any deserve to be re-elected.
Council dismissed the necessity of my revenue neutral reorganization plans twice, despite being presented with solid reasoning informed by experience, opting instead to exercise their own judgment on how things should operate. Such uninformed action is not without consequence. As a result of the delays, the planned retirement of a long-time employee meant that decades of institutional knowledge walked out the door shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until the end of October that my department was once again fully staffed. Given the learning curve necessary to learn the systems and procedures, this meant that by the time we were back up to full speed, I was pushed out the door.
C’est la vie.
I pride myself on being a grown-up in public affairs and in my professional life. I refrain from engaging in gossip and generally speak what’s on my mind without consideration of how it will impact my political “career.” In fact, if you ask my former colleagues on the Niagara Falls School Board, they can attest that they were never blindsided by my actions; I told them what I thought and what I intended to do and made it clear to everyone that I could be trusted to follow through on my word. What I’ve since discovered is that other politicians don’t like this, preferring instead to cut deals to advance their own menial interests.
When the “news” of my dismissal was leaked to the media (almost immediately – if not in advance), the Niagara Gazette ran their stock “Destino” story, detailing what they perceive as my myriad political failures. I take pride in the political challenges I’ve mounted and I always put the interests of Niagara Falls first – not my career. I gladly took on the role of David against Goliath when no one else had the courage to do so. And even though I wasn’t successful, I was right. I also believe that if your chief concern when running for a particular office is your likelihood of winning, then you’re not running for the right reasons.
Do I ever regret getting involved in public life? No. The truth is that I am largely unbothered by the petty, personal garbage littered about the city by people trying to bring me down. People who know me don’t believe any of it and ultimately wind up thinking less of those peddling in trash. I’ve been fortunate to get involved when I did because many of the greatest generation I had the pleasure of meeting now grace the pages of history. To hear their stories and to find some who knew my grandfather (whom I never met) is a price worth all the gossip and contumely.
My family on the other hand is bothered by the toxic morass that is Niagara Falls politics. I won’t miss the childishness and ingratitude of those I helped in the past; I will enjoy the added benefit of more time to spend with my kids and being a better husband. So, in closing, I want to apologize to my wife and say “You were right again, I should’ve listened to you.”