July 30, 1997 in Nation/World

State Official Apologizes For Faux Pas Act Exposes Fish And Game Chief To Criticism

From Staff And Wire Reports St
 

Fish and Game Director Stephen Mealey apologized Tuesday to department staff and the captain of a boat he and others were on last week when he feigned “mooning” the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille.

“Any gesture I made was playful and innocent and mostly an imitation of the real thing, leaving much to the imagination of the five or six men I was with and a distant shoreline,” Mealey wrote in a memorandum to Fish and Game commissioners. “In any case, it was indiscreet.”

Mealey’s apology came after members of the Idaho Wildlife Council doggedly chased down rumors of the mooning and exposed it with the help of an eyewitness - the Seagull Charters’ captain.

Mealey said he has discussed the incident with aides to Gov. Phil Batt and would extend an apology for his behavior to Batt as well. Aide John Chatburn said he had spoken earlier in the day with the governor, who was attending the National Governors’ Association convention in Las Vegas.

While unsure of the fallout from the controversy, Mealey said his job could be on the line.

But Fish and Game Commission Chairman John Burns said the incident didn’t shake his confidence in the director.

The mooning - or near-mooning - happened aboard a tour boat the commission and department officials had chartered last Thursday night after a two-day retreat at the University of Idaho’s Clark Fork Field Campus. At the retreat, they had discussed “the tough issues we had been going through, including politicization of the department,” Mealey said.

Mealey said the trip for about two dozen people was just to “let our hair down and kick back” after intense but productive working sessions. He simply was looking for some good-natured relief from the relatively rough six months he has experienced as department director.

“This was not some sort of mean-spirited, drunken expression of disrespect,” he said. “It was fairly innocent. But in my role, which I’m still learning, and all the pushes and pulls that go with me and this job, this kind of thing didn’t fit, and I should have probably known it at the time.”

Burns agreed that no one appeared to be drunk on the boat but added that “the exuberance got the better of good judgment.”

Though Burns said he was “right there,” he said he couldn’t be sure whether the director actually dropped his pants.

“To me it was more of a simulated type of thing, as opposed to a genuine mooning,” Burns said. “Perhaps there were some people on the boat who were strongly offended. That wasn’t my sense…”

The boat’s captain, Jim Meneely, said the mooning was real. He worried that people on shore would be offended.

Don Clower, of the Sportsmen Heritage Defense Fund, said he was disappointed in the whole affair.

“These people are in responsible positions and want the trust and faith of the sportsmen who pay their way,” he said. “It’s just inexcusable.”

Since taking over the department in January, Mealey has been caught in the cross-fire between conservationists and resource users on wildlife policy. The commission continues to oppose grizzly bear reintroduction and approves hunting seasons for sandhill cranes.

Mealey has angered sportsmen by appearing to put political considerations above the needs and desires of sportsmen, detractors say.

Mealey said the boat captain was present and apparently disapproved of his actions at the time. And he said the incident was discussed among the commission members and himself the next morning.

“We agreed that the impression or image could be detrimental and in the future everyone needed to be more cognizant of that,” Burns said.

But it was not until considering the incident further that Mealey said he realized its gravity, which was driven home by what he said were “pretty serious calls” the commission had been receiving.

He refused to contend the incident was being blown out of proportion by his critics to embarrass him, but “I don’t think that it’s any secret at all that I’m not real high on some folks’ list.”

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff and wire reports Staff writer Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.

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