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Our View: Highway Patrol owes Montanans the full story


September 3, 2013

Col. Kenton Hickethier retired from the Montana Highway Patrol suddenly Friday afternoon, saying only that he regretted making “inappropriate remarks” to subordinates.

He said he was sorry for his mistakes.

Attorney General Tim Fox promptly thanked Hickethier for his service, and Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said the department would have no further comment for now.

A required study would be conducted, he said, to see if any more information on the incident or incidents would be released.

In our book, the required study is pretty simple.

Montana law says there ought to be a balance between the privacy of the employee and the public’s right to know.

We are not talking here about a janitor who can’t sweep the floors properly or a typist who makes too many typos.

Hickethier was in charge of one of the most important state agencies. He oversaw employees who carry weapons and are responsible for protecting the safety of Montanans from all parts of the state.

He was one of the highest ranking officials in the Department of Justice.

More than any other department, Highway Patrol officers ought to be bearers of the highest ethical standards, especially those at the top of the food chain.

Details of the incidents ought to be released to the public as soon as possible, and Department of Justice officials ought to be responsible for enforcing high ethical standards for Hickethier’s successor and the rest of the staff.

This is not the first time the Highway Patrol has been reluctant to release information in sensitive cases.

Earlier this year, when Brad Sangray resigned under pressure as commander of the Highway Patrol’s Hi-Line zone, the Havre Daily News was given copies of the papers he was served with when he was suspended — the papers said only that his conduct was being investigated — and a copy of a one-sentence resignation letter that came several days later.

No other information would be released, Department of Justice officials said.

That’s not good enough. The people who pay the salaries of these officials and who are ultimately responsible for their conduct need to know what happened and if anything will be done to see that there is no repeat of the situation.

We hope the attorney general agrees.


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