HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer confirmed Friday that his Department of Transportation director resigned after the governor's office learned the agency head's daughter was given a DOT job.
DOT director Jim Lynch resigned Thursday, but no reason was given for the departure. The agency's legal chief was quickly named the new director.
The departure was a surprise to many, since Lynch and Schweitzer had often worked closely on issues and the governor had even recently appointed Lynch to the newly formed oil spill council.
The governor was fond of praising Lynch for quickly showing up to the scene of transportation issues in the state — from wildfires to safety issues.
But those close ties fell apart early this week.
Schweitzer confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that the abrupt resignation was over concerns that the hiring of Lynch's daughter, Emily Rask, could violate state nepotism laws. Rask holds a post in the agency's human resources department.
"I became aware that he had hired his daughter. I spoke to him about it and said, 'Jim, this is a clear violation of the nepotism law,'" Schweitzer said. "On that basis, I asked for his resignation. He had an interpretation that it is acceptable. I said, 'Look, this is not acceptable.'"
The governor said he was told of the issue early in the week by his chief of staff, and that he spoke to Lynch about it on Wednesday.
Lynch told the AP on Friday that he is the one who offered his resignation. He also said that both he and Schweitzer agreed the hiring did not amount to nepotism under the state law.
State law says that "nepotism is the bestowal of political patronage by reason of relationship rather than of merit." Breaking the law carries misdemeanor penalties.
Schweitzer said he is not aware of any further investigations.
Lynch said he did not get personally involved in the hiring that took place about four years ago, and he said he made sure it was all done correctly.
But the governor said he believed the hiring could still break the law.
"I just say, in the strictest interpretation of the law, this is my interpretation, and I asked for his resignation," the governor said.
Lynch said he was surprised the hiring became an issue after such a long time. He said he stayed out of the decision-making process, and said his daughter was hired on merit in a normal hiring process.
"When I heard that she was applying, I reviewed it with the legal department and human resources and they said it was acceptable for her to apply for the job," Lynch said. "Quite frankly, that was the end of it for me.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with what we did, we followed the process."
Lynch said he resigned "to take the high road." He said he is proud of the work he and Schweitzer did at the agency, which he said is now more efficient and responsive to taxpayers.
Lynch, who worked for a building materials company prior to his 2004 appointment, said his resignation would have been coming shortly anyway because he wants to weigh his other options. He may return to the private sector — but also did not rule out a run at governor as some have speculated.
Schweitzer said that Lynch has done a good job.
"Of course I am disappointed to lose a good director, but we have to be accountable to the people," Schweitzer said.