We weren’t at Friday’s Missoula City Club meeting to watch Tom Maclay make a case for his Bitterroot Resort spilling onto public land in the Lolo National Forest, mostly because our weekly publication schedule guarantees that anything newsworthy would be reported in Saturday’s Missoulian, five days before we could get a paper out. Little did we know the meeting would generate a bombshell. Even littler did we suspect that our daily comrades would effectively ignore it.

The bombshell was former Congressman and current Center for the Rocky Mountain West senior fellow Pat Williams’ revelation of Maclay’s apparently impeccable moral fortitude.

“People from up high came in and said ‘we can slamdunk this for you,’” Williams told the crowd. “But Tom Maclay, to his credit, said ‘no, we don’t want to do it that way, we want to do this for the community.’”

Come again?

We see two issues here, and neither one of them sits quite right. First, Williams is claiming knowledge of an apparent offer to bypass public process, if not a solicitation to influence-peddling. And second, we’re supposed to feel warm and fuzzy about Tom Maclay—charged Tuesday with illegally cutting trees on public land last year—just because he declined to sneak behind the public’s back?

Williams, asked by the Indy to support his claim, declined to identify either the source of the offer from “up high” or the source from whom he heard the story. He did, however, avow that he was not himself a firsthand witness to the supposed offer, but that the unnamed person who told him the story was.

So who’s the source? We don’t think we’re going too far out on a limb to deduce that if Maclay did in fact turn down such an offer, he must have received it. Right? Not so fast. Maclay, contacted by the Indy for comment, declined to confirm or deny he was the source of Williams’ anecdote, and further declined to confirm or deny the truth of it. Later, in a prepared statement, Maclay stated:“We aren’t privy to conversations Congressman Williams has, so it’s hard for us to offer any insightful comment. However, we don’t believe he was speaking of any member of Montana’s congressional delegation. We do appreciate his mention of our interest in making Bitterroot Resort an authentically Montana destination that the community shapes.”

We bet he does. You can’t buy publicity like that, but we’re not buying it. If Pat Williams or Tom Maclay has evidence of a public official offering to circumvent public process on public lands for Tom Maclay’s gain, they should come out with it. And if neither Williams nor Maclay is willing to go public with that information, they should keep it to themselves. But using unsupported hearsay to draw a community-minded halo around Maclay’s head—even as he’s charged with taking his own private chainsaws to public process—doesn’t pass our smell test.

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