Meis rebuffed again over ticket
In his latest exchange with police over petty tickets, Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis was cited last weekend on suspicion of violating a fire ban in Chaffee County when his camping party lit up a small charcoal grill.
Meis denied suggestions he tried to “fix” a ticket written Saturday by Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Matthew Goodwin, who cited the commissioner 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.
” ... 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,” Meis wrote in an email Tuesday to Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer.
“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,” Meis wrote.
Palmer sent a copy of his email exchange with Meis to The Daily Sentinel on Tuesday.
“It’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner,” Palmer replied to Meis.
“Your own county is experiencing a very large, very dangerous wildfire,” the sheriff wrote. “Yet you seem completely unconcerned about the risks to which you exposed our county residents by your thoughtless behavior here.”
Interviewed Tuesday night, Meis denied attempting to sway the Chaffee County Sheriff Department’s handling of the matter.
“(Palmer) thinking I was trying to ask to fix a ticket is entertaining,” Meis said. “I guess if you’re in elected office, calling into question anything law enforcement does is the third rail.”
A miffed Palmer said the language in the emails speaks for itself.
“I don’t understand this guy,” the sheriff said. “This isn’t Chicago, this is Colorado, for God sake.”
Meis was ticketed just before 7 p.m. Saturday in a wooded area off Chaffee County Road 307, according to the summons. The area is east of Buena Vista.
Meis wrote in his emails 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, just off County Road 307.
The charcoal grill in question, an “EZ Grill,” had been purchased for $3 by his friend, Meis wrote.
“You can see from the size of this grill that it is very small, well contained with the grate, and very easily extinguished,” Meis’ email continued.
Meis said he took responsibility for the grill when confronted by Deputy Goodwin, despite, he wrote, that he “didn’t buy it, bring it but did consent to its use.”
“My friend being of less financial means, I thought it would only be a fine and I would be happy to pay and chalk it up to a learning experience,” Meis wrote.
Interviewed by the Sentinel Tuesday night, Palmer said Deputy Goodwin was originally dispatched to the area after someone phoned 911 to report a possible campfire with visible flames. The deputy never conclusively determined the reported flames were associated with Meis’ “EZ Grill,” although Palmer noted “we couldn’t find any other fires up there.”
Palmer noted Meis’ party would have driven past a roughly 3-by-4-foot yellow and red sign at the entrance of the San Isabel National Forest along County Road 307, which includes a picture showing a charcoal grill “with a big slash through it.”
“If he had a propane grill, he would have been fine,” Palmer said. “They absolutely had to pass this sign to get where they were going.”
Palmer declined to release a copy of the deputy’s written narrative in the case. He did, however, recite in a phone interview passages from the deputy’s report.
“As Meis handed me his driver’s license, he also stated he also currently held an elected position as a county commissioner for Mesa County,” Palmer said, citing the report’s verbatim language.
“Meis stated that Mesa County is also currently dealing with ‘one of the largest fires in the state ...” the sheriff continued.
“Meis stated that receiving a summons to court for having a charcoal grill in our county, while his own county had a large fire of its own, would become a political firestorm for him,” Palmer said, again citing the deputy’s narrative.
Palmer said the deputy’s response to Meis was to finish writing the ticket.
Meis is scheduled to appear in court in Salida in September.
Meis, who will leave office next January under term limits, is no stranger to public spats with law enforcement officials. The Daily Sentinel reported extensively on Meis’ run-ins with law enforcement officers in Mesa County between 2007 and 2010, including his protests after being ticketed in June 2010 for allowing his then-14-year-old son to ride a personal watercraft 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.
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.”