Keeping the wheels on the county contraption

In a recent episode of the continuing Mesa County soap opera, Sheriff Stan Hilkey’s department last week investigated an anonymous e-mail sent to all county employees — using expletives to describe County Commissioner Craig Meis and demanding that Meis resign — and determined it was the work of a county employee, who has not yet been publicly identified.

Also, a Nebraska man who was offered the job as director of the Mesa County Health Department recently told the county he wouldn’t accept the position, largely because of the county turmoil. Late last week, he said he was reconsidering.

These are two recent incidents in a series of events that suggest things are starting to spin out of control in county government.

Let’s be clear: There are plenty of great employees working for Mesa County who will continue to do their jobs and keep county government operating, despite the distractions from Meis et al.

We’ve already made clear we think Meis unnecessarily wasted taxpayer dollars to make a personal point about a law he sees as nanny-state nonsense. He disagrees. Meis certainly had a right to seek a jury trial to challenge the ticket he received for allowing his 14-year-old son to operate a watercraft. He lost and paid his fine.

We do wish Meis would display a bit more humility when it comes to his office. He seems entirely tone deaf as to why his actions anger so many people.

For example, even if it’s true, as Meis said last week, that he had no intention of throwing his weight around when he asked the park ranger who issued him the ticket last summer if he knew who Meis was, the comment left enough of an impression on the ranger that he included it in his report. Even so, there is no evidence that Meis made an explicit threat to the ranger to the effect: “Drop this ticket or I’ll see that bad things happen to you.”

Through most of his tenure, Meis has not been a bad county commissioner. He and his colleagues have established programs such as the well-respected drug treatment facility, have initiated a host of important capital projects and have, for the most part, been careful stewards of taxpayers’ money.

But subtlety has never been Meis’ strong suit. Witness his angry e-mail to fellow-Commissioner Steve Acquafresca — complete with several expletives — regarding their disagreement about the hiring of a new county administrator.

So we urge Meis to dial back the defiance. His bull-in-a-china-shop approach may score points with some supporters, but it’s not helping to conduct county business. It’s adding to county morale problems and making the organization more dysfunctional.

We’re glad the commissioners chose to re-examine the plan of offering the county administrator position to Michael Freilinger. The news that he would be offered the job had created considerable consternation among county employees — as well as friction between commissioners. It was apparently the reason for the anonymous e-mail that the sheriff is investigating.

Through no fault of his own, Freilinger landed at the center of a highly contentious local dispute. Losing out on a job he thought would be his is unfortunate for him. But assuming the job now, knowing he wasn’t the first choice of two of the three commissioners, that his bosses were seriously divided over the issue and that many county employees strenuously object to the amount the county planned to pay him, was not a prescription for success.

The commissioners should take fresh looks at the other candidates for the job, and keep the pay for the new administrator at or below what it was for former administrator Jon Peacock.

While not hiring an administrator at all — an option the commissioners said they will examine now — would save the county money, it could create even greater problems with each commissioner overseeing a portion of county operations.

We offer this advice, knowing full well the commissioners, especially Meis, probably aren’t inclined to listen to anything we say at The Daily Sentinel. We offer it because there are a host of problems facing this county — the economy prominent among them — and the continuing distractions poorly serve local residents.

We understand some people believe this newspaper is largely responsible for these distractions. But the bulk of our coverage of these issues began when Meis decided to seek a very public trial to make a personal statement. Reporters Paul Shockley and Mike Wiggins have delved deeper into public records to give county residents additional information about what has occurred. Drawing the curtains back to reveal more of the operations of the people’s government is what good reporters should do.

Meis’ claim the Sentinel is guilty of “fabrication” is simply untrue. He’s offered no evidence to support the statement.

Carping among commissioners, an anonymous angry e-mail plus uncertainty with people wanting top-level county jobs all point to a county government with serious obstacles to overcome. The commissioners will have to put county interests ahead of their own agendas to surmount them.


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