Friday, February 21, 2014
Benol Bashes Media For Journalistic Malpractice
Benol is a newly elected member of Council, one of five Republicans swept into office after November's election. He has never held government office before, though he ran and lost in the GOP primary against Congressman Charlie Dent in 2010. He is also a past Chair of the LV Tea Party.
What set him off was the public outcry that followed Executive John Brown's proposal to hire Deana Zosky as a $715,200 business management consultant. That contract required Council approval. Somebody leaked it to the daily newspapers as well as this blog on February 14, two days after it was provided to Council. The Morning Call broke this story, quickly followed by The Express Times and this blog. I linked to the contract itself. Benol was angry that when he returned home from work that day and received a call from a reporter, he knew nothing about it.
So naturally, that was the press' fault.
Brown declined comment at the time this story broke to any media outlet, though he later had a news conference to discuss the merits of his proposal.
Last night, Benol informally suggested that Council members impose a 48-hour news blackout on communications from the Executive, although the Zosky communication was already 48-hours at the time it was leaked.
"I can't sit here the next four years and let the media dictate what we discuss," he huffed.
Benol, who supported the Zosky contract, complained that there were inaccuracies in the media coverage, though he failed to specify what those were. He also objected to the depiction of the contract as a $715,200 contract, calling this "journalistic malpractice". He explained that the annual price is much cheaper.
All reporting concering this contract, both here and in the two dailies, specified the contract price year by year, as well as a 30-day escape clause. But it is a $715,200 contract, and that price could be much higher because the County also agreed to pay unspecified IT costs for the implementation of dashboard software.
While denying that he is "trying to end transparency", Benol complained that stories that just happen on Friday are now appearing in the paper on Saturday.
He went on to chastise a Council member, without naming him or her, for participating in a blog discussion of the proposed contract. He failed to explain why participating in a public discussion is improper.
In addition to stating, "I don't trust the media anymore," Benol expressed some suspicion of fellow Council members. "How do I freely express myself?" he worried. "I shouldn't have to be hesitant to reach out to fellow Council members.
Benol then argued that he and other Council members "should be able to have private conversations behind the scenes," which they would disclose after they vote on the matter.
Glenn Geissinger, another newly elected Council member and supporter of the Zosky deal, echoed Benol. But faintly.
Lamont McClure remembered that he and other Council members were forced to go to "Sunshine Act camp" some years ago in a settlement deal reached in a suit filed by this very blogger. He suggested Benol read the packet of information that was supplied to him at that time.
"There are no secrets in politics," added council President Peg Ferraro.
More than anything else, this is a hissy fit by Benol. Because he didn't get his way on the Zosky contract, he blames the press. After the meeting, Benol claimed that marking this $715,200 proposal "confidential" should have been enough to keep the public from seeing a matter being voted on in the next six days. "I have lawyers working on it" he told me.
Good luck with that.
Maybe he should try holding his breath.
The second the Executive submitted this proposal to the people's representatives, it became something the public had a right to know. Instead of blaming the press for doing its job, a transparent Mat Benol would have participated in the discussion and let the cream rise to the top. Instead, he'd rather hide behind closed doors, where democracy dies and cockroaches thrive.
(Blogger's Note: When the video of this meeting becomes available, I intend to transcribe his comments, some of which he denied making after last night's meeting. Maybe the video will be wrong, too).
Updated 2:30 pm: You can see and hear the Benol rant on the County's web page now, at least until Benol decides that the public should be shut out of that process too. Here are excerpts of his little temper tantrum. he actually complained that the proposed contract, which had been in Council's hands for two days and would be voted in in the next week, was on this blog.
"I don't trust the media anymore. I think the media has an agenda, they put it our there very specifically. We have to fight that false opinion that's being created instead of having an open and honest dialogue. So what I've asked the Solicitors to do, is to start looking into, under the Right-to-Know laws, what part of our correspondence is considered private, if at all. And I'm not trying to end transparency. I just think that while something is in deliberation, we should have the ability to confer amongst ourselves, openly and honestly. Once those deliberations are over and the resolution is passed, then it's fair game, the public should see it. I'm certainly not trying to say that the public shouldn't see what we're discussing. I just think it hampers the efforts because again, in the Finance meeting, there were a lot of good ideas that came out that could have been resolved with simple conversations.
"We should have the debates here, I'm not saying that we shouldn't. But we should have the ability to confer because I'll be the first one to admit I am new to this game. I don't know everything that goes on and maybe I'mshooting myself in the foot by bringing this up now. But I shouldn't have to be hesitant of reaching out to my fellow Council members, especially ones who have spent eight years on Council, to solicit their opinion. ...
"So that's my concern and i just want to get it thrown out there in a public session and to the public, if this is going to get reported. Don't let the media drive your opinions. Please call us, any one of us, our numbers are out there. Remember, you elected us. Technically, we work for you. We will answer your questions. Don't rely on what you read in the papers.."
He complains about the media gaining access to information before him.
"Why should they have their hands on [a contract] before we have a chance to look at it? And I understand that that's the 500 pond gorilla in the room. ... ."
"I don't think they [the media] should generate the story. And I'll go back to the consultant. What I heard from people who called me is they were focused on the dollar amount. Everybody kept focusing on that seven hundred and some odd thousand dollars. But it wasn't broken down over four years. The comments that come out from us were different from what you saw there. They were educated comments. Not one of those educated comments was put in the print media because they were in such a rush to generate the story, where it comes out that you're almost committing journalistic malpractice."