Do you know Jack?
by JAMES MILLER, Managing Editor Penticton Herald
Jack Bennest is a credible newsman. By all accounts, he’s a fairly decent town councillor, at least that’s what the people of Oliver think who keep re-electing him every couple of years.
The owner and operator of Oliver Daily News, a successful news website in the South Okanagan, is in a firestorm of controversy. A prominent businessman has accused Bennest of a possible conflict of interest by introducing a motion regarding the proposed national park.
Jim Wyse of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery suggests Bennest could benefit from his motion by additional hits to the news site and the publicity that it will create.
While Mr. Wyse raises an interesting point, we consider it to be a stretch.
It’s up to each councillor to declare whether they consider themselves to be in conflict of interest. These rules, in accordance to the Municipal Act, are poorly written and are often open for interpretation.
If Bennest’s motion benefits his Oliver Daily News, it in theory will benefit his competitors, The Oliver Chronicle (the weekly) and, indirectly, The Penticton Herald (paid daily).
Unfortunately Bennest puts himself in harm’s way and is always open for criticism by wearing two hats, no matter how hard he tries to remain neutral.
Oliver is a small town and they don’t attract the same number of candidates that a city the size of Penticton (25) will.
Bennest is by no means a trailblazer. Media personalities occasionally run for office and are almost always elected due to name and face recognition.
Colin Basran, the new mayor of Kelowna, once worked for CHBC as a beat reporter in Penticton. Fellow Kelowna city councillor Mohini Singh was also a CHBC reporter. Michael Newman was publisher of the Oliver Chronicle, Penticton city councillors Jane Coady and Andre Martin were former Herald general managers and former mayor Maurice Finnerty owned the radio station in Penticton.
Technically any motion Bennest makes could boost his web traffic. He would
benefit the same way any other non-media businessperson would by a controversial motion — people would be mentioning their name.
To play it safe, Oliver Council has asked for a legal opinion which seems to have appeased all sides. It will be interesting to see what they say.
James Miller is managing editor of The Herald.