Max Lenington, the Yellowstone County treasurer, assessor and county superintendent of schools, sent a letter to The Billings Gazette Tuesday, asserting that he is “required to send and receive politically-charged emails” and that he has sometimes used his office "as a ‘bully pulpit’ to effect change in other areas of government."
In the letter, Lenington responded to being accused of plagiarism by a conservative pundit and to the question of whether he may have misused his government email account.
Lenington was in his office in the county courthouse Thursday afternoon, but he declined to comment in person on any allegations against him.
In the letter, Lenington does not confirm or deny plagiarizing or say whether using his government email account to discuss and send his letters to the editor was appropriate because he is waiting to be advised by the County Attorney’s Office.
But Lenington did write that he holds “an elected public office; where I am often required to send and receive politically-charged emails on a regular basis” and that “Like all other politicians at all levels of government, I have sometimes used my office as a ‘bully pulpit’ to effect change in other areas of government – federal, state & local.”
Misuse of county resources
Email records show that Lenington used his government email account to discuss his letter to the editor, “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama,” and submit it to at least two newspapers, the Casper-Star Tribune and the Helena Independent Record, sister papers of the Gazette that are also owned by Lee Enterprises.
County Attorney Scott Twito has said that Lenington’s use of his government email account is under review, but that it may be a couple of weeks before a report is made.
The county’s email policy states that using county email extensively “for private, recreational, or personal activities” may represent misuse of resources.
On Monday, it came to light that another letter to the editor submitted by Lenington and published by The Gazette on June 24 appears to plagiarize a February petition to impeach President Obama from conservative news site WND.com.
Lenington said in his most recent letter that he signed and circulated the original petition, but whether he did so using his county email account remains unclear.
Any legal action taken as a result the alleged plagiarism will be addressed as the situation arises, Twito said Monday.
Accusation of plagiarism
Conservative writer Mychal Massie has accused Lenington of committing plagiarism in “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama,” which The Gazette published Sunday.
In his most recent letter, Lenington said that he used some of Massie’s “verbiage,” but that he had permission to do so.
In an Aug. 6 email sent from his government email account, Lenington asked permission to use some of Massie's "excellent Anti-Obama comments" from the syndicated editorial "Why I Do Not Like the Obamas."
The author gave Lenington permission to quote his material, as long as no changes were made and proper attribution was given.
Nowhere in “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama” does Lenington attribute Massie.
Massie said Thursday that the Aug. 6 email exchange was the last time he spoke to Lenington, and that he is disappointed the official “shrugged off” his instructions.
“I’m just disappointed that it was so flagrantly plagiarized,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know yet if he’ll take legal action against Lenington, but that he “does plan to take a closer look at this.”
Regarding the June 24 letter to the editor headlined “Obama’s terrible record grows longer, Lenington said that his letter “contained quotations” from the petition.
Nowhere in the letter is the petition attributed.
Joseph Farah, the CEO and editor of WND.com said in an email Thursday that he doesn’t plan to take legal action against Lenington.
“It has never even been a consideration,” he said. “As I told you, we become aware of situations like this on a daily basis. That’s not an exaggeration. Plagiarism is an epidemic. We don’t have time and resources to litigate over them.”