The recent resignation of state Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch provides a revealing glimpse into the sometimes murky workings of state government ethics. Lynch resigned after Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the hiring of Lynch's daughter by the DOT could have been a violation of state nepotism law.
Lynch's daughter was given a job several years ago with DOT's human resources department. At the time and to his credit, Lynch consulted with his own agency's legal and human resources personnel and was told the hiring was OK.
But legal technicalities aside, his daughter's application for a job within the government agency he directed should have set off alarms. No matter how far he distanced himself from the hiring process - and all indications are he stayed out of it completely - there would always be those who would question whether his daughter got the job on merit or because of her father's influence.
And those would be legitimate questions. The fact that a job applicant is a family member of the person who supervises the people doing the hiring will almost certainly have some influence on the hiring decision.
Handing the reins of family owned businesses to sons and daughters is one thing. But nepotism is unethical in all publically owned businesses - especially in government, the business of the people. If others in the organization perceive that jobs or promotions are awarded to family members of influential people in the organization, faith in the organization's integrity is eroded, quickly and seriously.
Lynch's resignation is made unfortunate by the fact that he appeared to do all the right things when his daughter applied for a job in his agency. But this points to problems with the law. It is worded in a way that leaves it open to interpretation. And, indeed, there remains disagreement as to whether the hiring of Lynch's daughter violated the law.
In retrospect, Lynch should have known the situation was potential trouble and suggested his daughter apply elsewhere. But lawmakers need to revisit the law and make it crystal clear what constitutes a violation.
It's the least they can do for public servants and Montana citizens alike.