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We fully expect that Levi Davenport is a "fine young man," as his attorney assured the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners, and we hope that in time he becomes an outstanding firefighter.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the ill-advised and totally avoidable fiasco of a hiring process by which he was named this week a firefighter for Butte-Silver Bow is that his name becomes the punchline of a very bad joke.

It's not his fault that Dave Palmer bypassed so many other qualified candidates to name him. It's not even his fault that his mother-in-law is the Butte-Silver Bow County Attorney.

But the combination of those facts makes his hiring a really bad idea.

While Palmer may well have gotten an opinion from an "outside attorney"  that he wasn't violating any laws by skipping over higher-scoring candidates offered to him by the Fire Commission and going with Davenport, that doesn't make it the right thing to do.

The commission takes the responsibility of presenting (and scoring) candidates seriously, as it should. Its members are eminently qualified.

The fact that Davenport scored lower than many of the other candidates on their list led the commission to send a letter of protest to Palmer, saying it appeared "some type of political collusion" was at work in the selection.

One of the reasons Palmer said he turned down other, higher-scoring candidates was that they were not from Butte. He said that recently the county had hired a firefighter from elsewhere, and he had stayed "not even a year."

That was wildly inaccurate. The firefighter he referred to worked for the Butte-Silver Bow department for nearly four years.

It is hard not to come to precisely the same conclusion as the Fire Commission. It certainly seems that either an anti-outsider bias or an overt decision to make a hire because of political connections was behind Palmer's decision.

The whole mess cannot help but be a political liability for both Palmer and County Attorney Eileen Joyce.

If evidence should emerge that either of them played any previously unrevealed part in Davenport's selection, the impact would be grave indeed.

As it is, it's just an unsightly mess. Unfortunately, it's exactly the type of mess that gives Butte its reputation for nepotism and insularity.

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