MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) -- The Chaffee County Sheriff says a Mesa County Commissioner should know about high fire danger in Colorado, and stands by a deputy who ticketed him for using a grill near Buena Vista last weekend.
This wouldn't be the first time Commissioner Meis was accused of using his position to try to get out of a ticket.
Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis and Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer have exchanged emails where Meis asks for discretion and Palmer says he seemed 'completely unconcerned' about fire risk in the area.
Meis tells KKCO 11 news it's all a big misunderstanding. He says the whole situation is entertaining. He wasn't trying to get out of a ticket, but following the instructions of the deputy. Meis says he was told by the officer to contact the Sheriff if he had additional questions about the ticket, and that's what he did.
In an email to Meis, Sheriff Peter Palmer says, "It's not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner."
Meis says he and a long time friend were grilling with their kids on an EZ grill that they bought at a grocery store for around $3 dollars. He says he did not buy or light the grill but took responsibility for his friend, agreeing to pay a fine. Meis provided KKCO 11 News with a copy of the ticket, he was cited for using an open fire during stage two fire restrictions. There is a mandatory court appearance with the citation, a provision Meis says he didn't know about when he agreed to take responsibility for the grill. That's when he says he asked for discretion.
We've posted the verbatim of both emails below.
EMAIL FROM COMMISSIONER MEIS TO SHERIFF PALMER:
From: Craig Meis
Sent: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 10:39 AM
Subject: Summons No. 49837 - Saturday June 30th
Sheriff Palmer and Undersheriff Spezze
I left you both voice mails yesterday but understand this being a Holiday week you may both be out or very busy due to others being out. Figured I would try and send a brief e-mail this morning asking for your discretion considering the circumstances which Deputy Goodwin sought when issuing the attached citation but was unable to receive. I'll try and be as brief as possible as I am no fan of long winded e-mails.
This past Saturday my grade school friend and I met with our combined six kids to camp for the night and raft the following day. Being an elected official in Mesa County, I'm very aware of the fire ban in place and the conditions present particularly since we are battling a significant wildfire here in Mesa County. What a fire ban truly means, I'm getting educated on daily. Since we only planned to stay the night and with the fire ban, which I believed that to mean no open flames, sparks or fireworks, we planned to eat in town and not use our propane stove or other devices. My friend did bring with him the attached "EZ Grill" which he purchased at King Soopers for ~$3 along with ingredients for smores and other snacks. Since this item did not have an open flame like a stove would and many other factors educated people use to make responsible decisions, we were going to use this item so the kids could have their smores for the campout. Obviously if it posed any risk we would have immediately extinguished it. Needless to say this item couldn't even get hot enough to roast a marshmallow so we were using it for warming up tortillas when Deputy Goodwin arrived at our site. You can see from the size of this grill that it is very small, well contained with the grate, and very easily extinguished. Once Deputy Goodwin informed us that this item may not be allowed under the fire ban we quickly and easily extinguished it with ONE cup of water.
Deputy Goodwin was very respectful and understanding of our circumstance. He indicated that he tried to receive discretion given the circumstances but was unable to obtain such therefore he had to issue a citation. When Deputy Goodwin asked who was responsible for this EZ Grill, I took responsibility despite the fact that I didn't buy, bring it or light it but did consent to its use. My friend being of lesser financial means, I thought it would only be a fine and I would be happy to pay it and chalk it up as an educational lesson. 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.
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.
Again, I want to compliment Deputy Goodwin for his handling of our circumstance. He was very professional and courteous and I very much understand that he did not have the latitude or authorization at the time to provide us the discretion I'm seeking now from you but was simply doing his job.
Thanks for your time and consideration. I will look forward to your response.
EMAIL FROM SHERIFF PALMER TO COMMISSIONER MEIS:
From: "Pete Palmer"
Subject: RE: Summons No. 49837 - Saturday June 30th
Date: July 3, 2012 4:21:54 PM MDT
To: "'Craig Meis'"
It’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner.
We have never, in my year and a half in office, instructed our deputies to abandon reason and discretion and blindly enforce any statute or ordinance. However, Deputy Goodwin, whose family and forebears have lived in this valley for generations, is well aware of our residents’ apprehensions about the current fire conditions, as are all our employees. We’re 85 percent public lands in this county, most of it national forest, and we’re in the driest, windiest weather conditions in at least a decade. We’ve been under fire restrictions, either Stage I or Stage II, for at least the past month and the fire danger rating throughout the county is at extreme. This information is freely available and is easily found on our website, www.chaffeesheriff.org, where it has been posted for the past several weeks.
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.
I have commended Deputy Goodwin for his actions.
Regarding your not-so-subtle threat to expose this incident in the press, I’m eager to assist you in that 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.
Have a pleasant day.
W. Peter Palmer
Chaffee County Sheriff
Below we've posted details of a previous incident in which Commissioner Meis was accused of abusing his power.
MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) - Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis says he'll hold a press conference Tuesday to discuss allegations he abused his power and tried to get out of ticket at Highline Lake State Park June 18.
Grand Junction Results is asking for his immediate resignation. Several people with the Tea Party went to the Old County Courthouse Monday during the Commissioners public hearing to give Meis a letter expressing their disapproval.
GJ Results President Tim Fienwick declined to discuss what was in the letter until Meis has a chance to look it over. Fienwick says, "The contents of the letter I'm going to let Mr. Meis explore and let him do with the contents as he sees fit. If things don't work out the way we (GJ Results) would like we will divulge the letter and other information."
Fenwick also tells 11News, "He (Meis) abused his power by presenting himself as somebody that officer didn't want to mess with. He was trying to get out of a ticket and took it to the extreme and this cost Mesa County a black eye."
11 News has obtained a copy of the ticket and the report the Colorado State Parks Ranger wrote. In the report, the ranger says Meis mentioned his position several times and the fact that he knew the district attorney well.
Meis was ticketed for letting his 14-year-old son drive a wave-runner at Highline Lake State Park June 18. Meis took the case to court and was found guilty and ordered to pay a $78 fine. The original ticket issued was a $50 fine.
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