Gazette opinion: No place in county office for racism

2013-11-04T00:00:00Z 2013-11-08T18:54:04Z Gazette opinion: No place in county office for racism The Billings Gazette
November 04, 2013 12:00 am

Max Lenington’s ugly opinions have tarnished the reputation of Yellowstone County.

A few days ago, The Gazette learned that Lenington had used his county taxpayer-provided email account to send a terrible, racist message. Lenington used the n-word in a comment bemoaning President Barack Obama’s November 2012 re-election. Even without that one word, the email was a racist, homophobic blast against virtually all Americans who aren’t white heterosexuals.

The latest revelation came in response to a Gazette reporter’s request for email from Lenington’s county account. He sent this particular email last Nov. 13 to his sister. Lenington may have intended the message for his sister only, but he used his county email to send it.

Contacted Thursday for comment, Lenington told a reporter: “You’ve got to get out with the real people because you’ll see that people still use that word periodically. This is Montana ... this isn’t Chicago, this isn’t Washington.”

As Montanans, we are offended. Most Montanans don’t spew racial epithets. True public servants don’t use their county computer to send racist rants to their sisters or anybody else.

This isn’t the first time we have heard Lenington’s disdain for the president. He told Gazette readers in a letter to the editor that he “hates” both the president and first lady Michelle Obama. We later learned that the comments he submitted as his own were plagiarized from a previously published commentary.

The Gazette prints many letters from people who disagree with Obama. We print news stories in which people oppose Obama’s policies. Criticism doesn’t necessarily mean hate or racism, but Lenington did.

Lenington is free to express his opinions. However, as an elected public official, he must accept the consequences. There is no place in Yellowstone County government for racism and hatred. Lenington should no longer be our county assessor, treasurer and superintendent of schools.

Soon after The Gazette received a copy of the Nov. 12 email, Lenington told a reporter he doesn’t plan to resign.

However, County Attorney Scott Twito has directed his civil division to review the state recall laws that may allow Lenington to be removed from office.

We commend Twito for his commitment to honesty and openness in government. After Lenington failed to respond to Gazette a public records request for printouts of some of his county email, Twito followed the law and provided the public records promptly.

He notified Lenington of the offensive email and reacted to it as we would hope all public servants would. “I don’t think this way,” Twito said. “I don’t see how anybody can. It just bothers me as a person.”

Whether he leaves by resignation, recall or losing re-election next year, Lenington has no business staying in public office. The sooner he goes, the better for Yellowstone County.

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