Two weeks ago, Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch resigned from his post after six and a half years. It was unclear at first exactly why the man who has weathered so much criticism over Imperial Oil's heavy haul would simply throw in the towel.
Lynch initially indicated, in his resignation letter, that he was leaving MDT to "pursue other opportunities." Follow-ups from the media suggested a potential gubernatorial bid in 2012, or a return to work in the private sector. Then the allegations of nepotism came to light. Gov. Brian Schweitzer had requested Lynch's resignation after learning that MDT hired Lynch's daughter. MDT's chief human resources officer, Jennifer Jensen, stepped down days later.
Hold on. Nepotism? Lynch's daughter, Emily Rask, joined MDT's human resources division four years ago. Putting aside the fact that it took this long for the governor to learn of the hiring, we find the allegation more than a tad hypocritical. After all, Schweitzer's brother, Walter, served as deputy state auditor from December 2008 to February 2011. How exactly does that differ?
Lynch claimed in a statement that he played no role in his daughter's application, interview or selection at MDT. He did not supervise Rask, nor did he work in the same division, he said. Lynch even said he checked with MDT's legal department and got the all-clear.
Schweitzer told a different story regarding Lynch's resignation. He said that he'd only recently heard of Rask's employment at MDT from his chief of staff, and felt the situation was a clear violation of the state's nepotism law. His account butted up against Lynch's claim that the two reached a mutual conclusion that there was no violation. Lynch told the Associated Press that he submitted his resignation in order to "take the high road."
Someone's not on the level here. And the shaky stories from Helena have led to rampant speculation. The state GOP quickly posed the question last week: Could the ouster have something to do with Lynch's possible gubernatorial aspirations? Any such bid would pit him against Attorney General Steve Bullock, who is also widely rumored to be eyeing the Democratic nomination for governor.
Schweitzer would never admit to political duplicity playing a role in the resignation. And we're not inclined to trust Lynch, who repeatedly denied that Imperial Oil's heavy haul would create a permanent high-and-wide corridor through the state despite having said as much before a legislative committee in 2009. One thing's for sure, though: Neither of them looks good in all this.