American author Thomas Wolfe titled his famous 1940s novel ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’, but Tim Commisso is disputing that statement for the second time in his career.
When Commisso was passed over for the city manager’s job in Burlington in 2007, fortunately for him the same position became open in Thunder Bay, his hometown.
Now he’s returning to Burlington, his second home, as interim city manager.
Commisso, a senior adviser at MNP, a national accounting, tax and consulting firm since he retired in Thunder Bay in 2015, has signed a six-month contract to fill the gap while the new city council searches for a replacement for James Ridge.
Ridge resigned in December not long after the municipal election after holding the City’s top job since 2015.
Commisso worked for the City of Burlington for 20 years, holding various senior leadership roles, including general manager positions in community services and development and in infrastructure, director of parks and recreation and deputy city treasurer.
“During his time in Burlington, Tim was at the forefront of community development and engagement,” a City spokesperson said. “Tim was responsible for major community projects with resident involvement such as the Downtown Waterfront project, the Appleby Ice Centre, and Paletta Park and Mansion.”
Commisso, who was general manager of community services at the time, left the City of Burlington in September of 2008 to become city manager in Thunder Bay, where he grew up.
He had applied for the job of city manager in Burlington after Tim Dobbie retired, but the City hired Roman Martiuk, who had been city manager in Prince Albert, Sask.
Commisso retired from his job in Thunder Bay in 2015 and since then has been working as a senior adviser with MNP in Toronto.
While his family remains in Thunder Bay, he maintains an apartment in Toronto and will be commuting to Burlington by GO train.
“Obviously I was disappointed when I didn’t get the top job in Burlington,” he said. “But I was able to go back to my hometown and while I was in Thunder Bay had the opportunity to be with my family. It was a blessing.”
Commisso said it was coincidental that the job opened up in Thunder Bay in 2008.
“I really enjoyed working in Burlington, but my desire was to become a city manager,” he said.
Ridge had worked in the top administrative position since 2015 and oversaw Burlington’s revamped city plan during an era of discontent over downtown development.
When selected, the new full-time city manager will become the fifth Burlington has had since Michael Fenn left as Chief Administrative Officer in 1995.
Fenn eventually wound up with the City of Toronto and later served as a deputy minister in the provincial government under three different Premiers.
Tim Dobbie, who suceeded Fenn, served for 12 years before retiring for health reasons and eventually went into business for himself just a block away from City Hall.
At the time Dobbie, a close friend of former mayor Rob MacIsaac, denied he was leaving because Cam Jackson was elected mayor after
MacIsaac accepted a new job as head of Metrolinx.
Martiuk was city manager for the next five years, followed by Jeff Fielding for two years and Ridge for three. Fielding was hired away by the city of Calgary in 2014 with the enticement of a $315,000 salary. Ridge was making $293,000 annually in Burlington.
When he left in 2012, Martiuk said stepping aside as city manager would allow the new council to hire a city manager that could work with them for its entire term.
John Mascarin, a municipal affairs lawyer with the Toronto firm of Aird & Berlis, said he doesn’t find it unusual at all for a city to have five different city managers in a 25-year period in today’s world.
“It’s not so bad compared to some places,” he said. “These people are almost on a council term basis. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. They just want to go with somebody new.
“I think the City of Toronto might have had seven or eight in the same period of time and perhaps three in the last five years. It depends on how the political winds blow.”