How Penticton’s newest city councillor plans to keep day job as newspaper editor | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How Penticton’s newest city councillor plans to keep day job as newspaper editor

Penticton Herald editor and newest city councillor James Miller
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ James Miller
June 21, 2021 - 8:00 PM

It’s not unheard of for journalists to get elected to city councils or school boards but it always begs the question about how unbiased their media outlet will be when reporting on them.

When it’s James Miller, managing editor of the Penticton Herald – who won a by-election this past weekend for a seat on Penticton city council –  the possible conflict is obvious.

READ MORE: Penticton chooses newspaper editor to fill empty council seat

Miller, when he ran, took a five-week leave of absence and hired freelancers to cover the by-election instead of regular city hall reporter Joe Fries.

“Nobody tells Joe Fries what to write,” Miller told today, June 21. “I never have and I don’t intend on doing it now.”

He will not write about city council or even mention those words while at work, he said.

Besides, if he took disciplinary action against Fries for anything he wrote, he knows that not only would the union (Unifor) be on his case but he would probably get fired as well.

While his bosses agreed that he could run, he and they are very clear about drawing a line between what Miller does as a councillor and what he does as an editor and have set detailed guidelines on what he can and cannot do.

“I have said in no way do I ever break that trust, with (A) the readers and B my staff,” Miller said.

It’s also not precedent setting for Penticton.

Maurice Finnerty was not only the mayor of Penticton from 1962-67 but was also the owner of the city’s only radio station at the time, CKOK.

“He never once dictated to them how they would cover his council,” Miller said. “And, Maurice is considered by local historians to be, probably, one of the best mayors in the city’s history.”

One of the reasons Miller ran for council was because this was a by-election so he’s only going to be in office for 15 months rather than the normal four-year term. The by-election was called after councillor and former mayor Jake Kimberley resigned after suffering a stroke.

Miller knows the councillors who he will be working with and agrees on most of their positions, such as standing up to B.C. Housing over the issue of the Victory Church homeless shelter being kept open, he said.

READ MORE: Penticton council not backing down against province on emergency shelter

While he’s taken shots at previous councils in print, he said this council is doing a pretty good job. He doesn’t agree with everything they do and doesn’t expect them to necessarily agree with him all the time.

The timing of the by-election also means he will have the quiet summer schedule to ease into the job and a relatively short time to try to balance the demands of his job with the newspaper and the time it can take to serve as a city councillor.

On the plus side for the city, Miller said, is that he brings a wealth of knowledge after years of covering and following council so it won’t be a steep learning curve getting up to speed on issues and the background to those issues.

“My biggest worry is that this is going to be a huge time commitment between a full-time job and city council,” Miller said. “If I find the time commitment just exhausts me, it’s time, in 2022, to pick one or the other.”

Today, on his first day back on the job after five weeks' leave, he left the office at 2 p.m. and left the layout of the paper to Fries because there is going to be a story about Miller’s election in tomorrow’s edition.

He vows not to step into the office on the Tuesdays when council meets and not direct in any way what kind of stories or commentary Fries or other reporters might write.

Miller says he is, after all, one those editors who will run anti-James Miller letters to the editor, something that doesn’t always happen in the news business, he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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