Yellowstone County commissioners are asking embattled county Treasurer Max Lenington to resign.
In their weekly meeting on Tuesday, the commission unanimously rejected Lenington’s proposal that he would resign at the end of the year if the county bought out his last year in office.
Lenington, the county treasurer, assessor and superintendent of schools, said Tuesday morning he would retire at the end of his term in 2014, sidestepping any suggestion that he leave office earlier.
"I will not be seeking re-election for the office of County Assessor/Treasurer/Supt. of Schools in 2014," Lenington said in an email addressed to the commissioners and sent to The Gazette.
In the statement, Lenington blames the controversy over his words on "the liberal left-wing news media," which he accuses of "purposely and intentionally deceiving us and not telling the truth about" President Obama.
Lenington came under public scrutiny recently after a Billings Gazette public information request showed he has used his government email account to send bigoted and racist messages.
In an email sent Nov. 13, 2012, from his government account, Lenington said that President Barack Obama must have been re-elected because, “ … there are more lesbians, queers, Indians, Mexicans and n——— than the rest of us!” (The Gazette has chosen not to completely reproduce the word that Lenington used.)
In a recent email to the commissioners, Lenington said he would “retire as gracefully as possible” and that the county commission would “have solved the problem” if they were to buy out his last year in office.
The 69-year-old elected official earns $90,054 a year.
After a brief discussion Tuesday, the commissioners agreed that a buyout was out of the question.
“I’m going to make a motion to deny that,” Commissioner John Ostlund said.
Commisioner Bill Kennedy quickly seconded the motion and said, “I would accept Mr. Lenington’s resignation, but I’m not willing to pay out anything on that.”
Commission Jim Reno then read a statement asking Lenington to resign.
In the statement, he acknowledged Lenington’s long track record of helping people with their taxes and vehicle registration, but continued, “And now as a fellow public servant I must respectfully ask that you step down. That you resign. I’m proud to say that I have friends in every category that you recently cast in the worst possible light,” he said.
“Yes, some of my friends voted for President Obama,” the commissioner continued. “But I darn sure didn’t. Yet we treat one another with respect. Max, when you lose the public trust it is time to resign.”
In announcing his intention to serve out his term, Lenington attacked the media, saying news outlets have slandered him and are attempting to censor his First Amendment rights regarding his emails.
Here is the rest of Lenington's statement:
"This issue pertaining to my resignation as County Assessor/Treasurer is propagated by the liberal left-wing news media, as a result of letters to the Billings Gazette in which I condemned that media for purposely and intentionally deceiving us and not telling the truth about President Barrack Obama.
"There is a definite double standard in the main stream news media's treatment of President Obama when compared to prior Presidents Bush and Clinton.
"Since these news media outlets cannot debate the narrative of my letters, they have proceeded to attack and slander me as the messenger in every way possible — including false charges of plagiarism. They are attempting to censor my First Amendment rights as it pertains to my emails.
"I am not aware of any restrictions that Yellowstone County has adopted to regulate or control my emails. I am entitled to my political opinions and beliefs. If you begin to censor emails, then you must also include general correspondence, telephone calls and every conversation; which goes directly against my First Amendment rights."
Over the weekend, Hilltop Public Solutions, a political consulting firm, on its own initiative conducted a survey and found that the majority of Yellowstone County voters think Lenington should either resign or be removed from office.
An even 80 percent of the respondents said they were aware of the Lenington controversy, 54 percent said he should resign and 63 percent said he should be removed from office.
A Gazette investigation in August showed that Lenington apparently plagiarized two letters to the editor — one of them titled “Why I Hate Barack and Michelle Obama” — that he submitted to The Gazette and several other newspapers.
The public information request also turned up dozens of messages showing that over several months Lenington used his work email to negotiate the purchase of an $11,000 motorcycle.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Friday that his office is continuing to investigate Lenington’s conduct and will make a report soon.