More possible plagiarism surfaces; county official’s actions under legal review

2013-08-26T18:10:00Z 2013-11-18T16:41:10Z More possible plagiarism surfaces; county official’s actions under legal reviewBy EDDIE GREGG egregg@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A longtime Yellowstone County official accused of plagiarizing an anti-Obama editorial in a letter to the editor he submitted to The Billings Gazette also may have plagiarized a petition to impeach the president in another letter to the editor published in June.

On Sunday, after being contacted by The Gazette, conservative writer Mychal Massie accused Max Lenington, the Yellowstone County assessor, treasurer and superintendent of schools, of plagiarizing the syndicated editorial, “Why I Do Not Like the Obamas,” and publishing it as a letter to the editor titled “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama.”

It came to light Monday that another letter to the editor written by Lenington, published June 24, is similar to a petition to impeach President Obama posted online at conservative website WND.com in February.

Joseph Farah, CEO and editor of WND, confirmed that the petition originated on the site.

County Commissioner Jim Reno said Monday that it was too soon to say what legal consequences Lenington might face, but that the official’s actions are under review by the County Attorney’s Office.

In the letter headlined “Obama’s terrible record grows longer,” it appears that Lenington took points from the WND impeachment petition, rewrote them and listed them as five reasons why Obama is an “immaculate and anointed President that just keeps on giving.”

Lenington’s second point in the letter was, “The IRS — in accordance with direct instructions from Democrats — engaged in the most egregious, surreptitious and widespread attack against conservatives and patriots in U.S. history. This included knowledge by top agency officials and, most likely, President Obama.”

The second paragraph of the petition states, “Whereas, the IRS under Obama — in accord with direct instructions from congressional Democrats — has engaged in the most egregious and widespread attack on conservative groups in modern history, with the knowledge of top agency officials ...”

Lenington’s “Obama’s terrible record grows longer” letter was not a stated petition for the president’s impeachment, but he ended it by asking, “And we attempted to impeach President Richard Nixon for breaking into a political hack's file cabinet?”

Attempts to contact Lenington for comment have been unsuccessful. An employee in Lenington’s office in the county courthouse said he is on vacation at a motorcycle rally until next week.

She said Lenington does not have a cellphone.

County resources

Lenington’s two letters to The Gazette were mailed, but he used his government email account to send the most recent letter to at least two other newspapers — The Helena Independent Record and The Casper Star-Tribune, sister papers of The Billings Gazette that are also owned by Lee Enterprises.

In an email sent from his government email account to the Star-Tribune, Lenington said he had submitted his "Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama" letter to five of the largest papers in Montana.

Lenington’s use of his government email account for personal business is a violation of Yellowstone County policy, Reno said.

Page 14 of a June 2007 memo detailing the county’s “Computer User Responsibility Policy” states that using county email extensively “for private, recreational, or personal activities” may represent misuse of county email resources.

“You just don’t use county equipment (for personal purposes),” Reno said. “Be it a road grader, or be it a computer.”

Unelected county employees may be fired for misuse of county resources, he said, but because Lenington is an elected official, the County Commission does't have the same authority over him.

“His boss and my boss are the same — it’s the voters,” Reno said. “If there is a criminal act that is so egregious, we make judges for that.”

The commissioner declined to comment on the subject matter of Lenington's letter to the editor published Sunday.

"He has First Amendment rights," Reno said. "My comment must be focused specifically on not the content of the article, but if county equipment was used to prepare it."

It’s unclear whether Lenington’s actions could lead to him being removed from office.

“I can tell you it won’t go unnoticed by the electorate or by our legal review,” Reno said.

Jennifer Owen, chairwoman of the Yellowstone County Republicans said, “Plagiarism is a serious allegation. This is not something the (Republican) Party knows anything about. I trust that Mr. Lenington and the original authors will work this out.”

Massie said Monday afternoon that he had not yet contacted Lenington.

Respected for his work

“I can tell you that on a tax issues and assessment issues, he’s our go-to guy when we have technical questions,” Reno said of Lenington.

Lenington began working for the county as a deputy assessor in 1969, and apart from a hiatus of two years has served in county government since then.

Lenington earns $90,054 a year and supervises 24 to 26 people. His current term as treasurer, assessor and superintendent of schools expires in 2014.

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