Commissioner Incident Sets Off Fiery Controversy
Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis was cited last weekend when his camping party lit up a small charcoal grill, according to Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Matthew Goodwin, who cited commissioner Meis on suspicion of building, maintaining or attending an open fire during Stage 2 fire restrictions, a violation of county ordinance carrying a possible $500 fine.
Commissioner Meis wrote in an email to County Sheriff Peter Palmer that he and a childhood friend, along with their children, were camping for the night and planned a rafting trip the next day. The location where Deputy Goodwin encountered the party is inside the San Isabel National Forest.
Meis and his friend purchased an EZ Grill for $3 from a local grocery store and proceeded to light it while camping in a restricted fire ban area. The region was clearly marked with a 3- by 4-foot red and yellow sign warning that charcoal grill use in the forest was strictly prohibited because of the high nature of the fire ban in the region.
Meis’ email to the sheriff included what may be construed as a request to “fix” the ticket.
“In short, I’m asking for your discretion in this matter at this time since Deputy Goodwin was unable to receive such at the time and based solely on these circumstances and not on my county position, title or past. I simply provided this information for full disclosure so you can make an informed decision. As indicated, I’m willing to pay a fine if necessary but will be disappointed if a mandatory court appearance is still enforced given the circumstances and the fact that we were acting responsibly and abiding by the intent of the fire ban law but apparently not the letter of the law.”
Sheriff Palmer replied by email by stating: “It’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner.”
Your own county is experiencing a very large, very dangerous, wildfire. Yet you seem completely unconcerned about the risks to which you exposed our county residents by your thoughtless behavior here,” Palmer went on to state.
It’s no surprise that the incident is making news, as Meis himself pointedly addressed the matter in his email to the sheriff.
“I was shocked when I learned from Deputy Goodwin when he was issuing me the citation that this violation has a mandatory court appearance. That is when I informed Deputy Goodwin that the last time I was issued a citation of this sort which didn’t exercise discretion and appropriate consideration of the circumstances ended up in Local, State and even National news publications as I took a $50 ticket I received at a Colorado State Park to a jury trial. I have no intent, want or desire to do the same thing in this instance but will be forced to vigorously defend myself either pro se or of counsel if pressed with a court appearance.”
Regarding his “not-so-subtle threat to expose this incident in the press,” Palmer responded that he was
eager to assist in the endeavor.
“For this reason, I’m taking the liberty of forwarding your email and my response to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Salida Mountain Mail, and the Associated Press,” Palmer wrote.
The previous incident Meis cites refers to when on June 18, Mesa County Commissioner Meis was cited for letting his 14-year-old son drive a wave-runner at Highline Lake State Park. Meis criticized the Colorado State Parks officer who issued the ticket for his “lack of discretion” and took the matter to trial, where he was convicted in a 45-minute hearing and ordered to pay a $78 fine. The original ticket issued was a $50 fine.
The officer wrote in a report on the Highline Lake incident that Meis repeatedly raised his elected position and the fact he knew Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger “very well.”
Meis is a native of Colorado and a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines in Chemical Engineering. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the States of Colorado, Wyoming and Texas and is currently an engineer with Olsson Associates, head quartered in Lincoln, Nebraska and with offices throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. Meis and his wife Carrie currently have five children.
He is scheduled to leave office in January 2013 and is not eligible to run for re-election because of term limits.
Meis is scheduled to appear in court in Salida in September.