Meis defies his critics
Official rips Sentinel for coverage of his citation
A defiant Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis on Tuesday rejected calls that he resign over allegations he abused his power to try to avoid a ticket. He insisted he never raised his elected position with a law-enforcement officer and accused a Daily Sentinel reporter of fabricating a “conspiracy.”
The 40-year-old, two-term commissioner defended his decision to take his case to trial earlier this month, claiming that while he was guilty of violating the letter of the law, he was innocent of violating the intent of the law. Given the opportunity to do it over, he vowed he would again fight what he considered a “frivolous” ticket.
Meis read from a prepared statement and took questions from the media and some of the more than 50 people who attended a nearly hour-long news conference that devolved into Meis supporters and detractors occasionally pointing fingers and shouting at one another at the county courthouse.
The rebuttal came one day after Tim Fenwick, president of GJResult, delivered a letter to Meis asking him to step down as commissioner in connection with comments Meis reportedly made to a Colorado State Parks officer earlier this summer.
The officer, Craig Johnson, ticketed Meis on June 18 for illegally allowing his 14-year-old son to operate a watercraft at Highline Lake State Park. State law requires watercraft operators to be at least 16.
Johnson’s report states Meis told Johnson several times he is a county commissioner and knows District Attorney Pete Hautzinger well. Meis was convicted at trial and paid a $78 fine for the petty offense.
In an interview with The Daily Sentinel, which reported on the details of the report Sunday, Meis denied raising his position with the officer. He repeated that denial again Tuesday “as God is my witness.” He then said if he did raise his position with the officer, he didn’t mean it in a harassing or threatening manner and apologized to the officer if the officer felt that way.
Meis acknowledged telling the officer he knew the district attorney but claimed he did so merely to point out what he believed was a frivolous issue that would potentially go to trial.
Meis made it clear during the news conference he disagreed with the law and felt he was “wrongly accused of a public safety violation.”
“Laws such as this one are a one-size-fits-all approach that were created due to the irresponsible actions of a few that now punish the responsible majority,” he said. “It is for this very cause that I fought this frivolous ticket and will do so in the future when issued other citations that may be issued that have little or nothing to do with public safety when considering the circumstances related to the offense.”
Meis brushed off charges that he wasted taxpayer money by taking the case to trial, suggesting the cost to taxpayers was instead imposed by lawmakers “that write laws protecting you from the irresponsible minority.”
He invited the Mesa County Republican Party and the Western Slope Conservative Alliance to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ticket. Republican Party Chairman Chuck Pabst, who attended the news conference, quickly stood up and declared the party would take no action. Pabst called Fenwick’s resignation request “pretty ridiculous” and compared it to his son being anointed “chairman of the Secret Treehouse Club.”
“I wish we would leave this issue alone” and allow commissioners to “get back to the business of running Mesa County,” Pabst said, drawing a round of applause from Meis supporters.
Meis also blasted Sentinel reporter Paul Shockley, who wrote articles about Meis’ trial and the officer’s report. The commissioner accused Shockley of “tabloid journalism.”
Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton said the newspaper stands behind the “professionalism and accuracy of Mr. Shockley’s reporting in this case.”
“The Sentinel made available to the public Mr. Meis’s statements to a law enforcement officer and his subsequent e-mail to that officer’s ultimate superior. Perhaps Mr. Meis should stand on his words and stop blaming others such as the issuing officer and, now, the Sentinel,” Seaton said. “It is interesting that Mr. Meis has charged the Sentinel with ‘fabrication’ and ‘tabloid journalism’ because in his press conference today he appeared to confirm every detail of Mr. Shockley’s reports.”
County residents Susan Potts and Sandy Peeso were among a group of Meis supporters who said they attended the news conference to support the commissioner.
“You will not find a more honest person,” Potts said of Meis.
Larry Bullard, a former officer with the Grand Junction Police Department and Mesa County Sheriff’s Department who sat in on the news conference, said most people don’t begrudge Meis his right to protest his ticket. And Bullard said he agrees with Meis that some laws seem unreasonable for most of the population. But he said Meis fails to grasp the objection being lodged by many: that Meis used his county e-mail account, county-owned space and other county resources to fight his case.
“What irks me is that if you receive a citation as a commissioner in the performance of your duties, then use your office for your defense,” Bullard wrote in an e-mail to the Sentinel. “But if you are acting as a private citizen and get a citation from your actions as a citizen, then fight your case as a citizen. Don’t use your office as (a) tool to exercise your rights.”