By JAMES MILLER
OLIVER — The longest-serving municipal politician in the South Okanagan has resigned.
Jack Bennest shocked Oliver town councillors and the community when he tendered his resignation, Monday.
“If I were asked, ‘Why are you resigning?’ I would put it simply the fun seems to be gone out of local politics,” Mr. Bennest wrote in a short letter to council.
In total, Mr. Bennest served the Town of Oliver for 17 years: from 1988-1993 and again from 2005 to present. He lost only one election during that time.
In an interview, Mr. Bennest said he has some health issues which come “with getting older” but nothing life-threatening that would deter him from completing his term on council. He also denies being upset with anyone on council or in the community.
“I’m 70-years-old, I’m tired and I’ve made a decision,” he said.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said he was surprised by Mr. Bennest’s abrupt departure.
The only other time there was a resignation from council in recent memory was when Linda Larson was elected MLA.
“It caught council by surprise,” Mayor Hovanes said, Tuesday. “Jack often joked that he was now the elder statesman on council and 17 years in local government is a long time.”
The mayor appreciates Mr. Bennest’s contributions to council.
“He’d come at you with a different angle. Jack always liked to cut to the chase and not spend time on what he considered to be a lot of fluff. But you could always count on Jack Bennest for a quality decision that was always for the overall benefit of the community.”
Oliver council is scheduled to meet next on Aug. 18 at 4 p.m. on a number of issues including the hotel project. The date of a byelection, which must be held within 80 days, will be determined.
The next municipal election is in November 2018.
Mr. Bennest said he had hoped council could avoid a byelection and instead operate with a council of four plus two water councillors.
“The law is the law, I believe the costs to Oliver will be very marginal,” he said of an upcoming byelection mandated by B.C.’s Municipal Act.
This is the first time four-year terms have been implemented in B.C. for municipal government.
When asked if he’d prefer three-year terms, Mr. Bennest said it depends on
“If it’s your first term on council, four years is probably a good thing because you’re learning. If you’re in your last term, like I was, four years is a long time.”
Mayor Hovanes agrees there are definitely pros and cons.
“At the onset I was excited about four-year terms but looking at it now, it is a long time.
You can get a lot done in a year but sometimes it can be tough slogging especially if the economy is slow or you’re dealing with a lot of controversy.”
Mr. Bennest said his proudest accomplishment is with parks.
“When I started, Oliver didn’t have a lot of stuff and now it has a great deal more. Our park system is just not council’s responsibility, it’s a community thing and a joint service with the RDOS. Centennial Park is losing space to a hotel but it also created within the complex
a park on both sides for our people, and not just tourists.”
At 17 years, Mr. Bennest did not set a longevity record, but of all elected councillors within The Herald’s readership area, he is the longest serving at present.
Mr. Bennest owns and operates the Oliver Daily News website, which is presently for sale.