A true independent

Stephen Lloyd Wood

– Full name: Lewis Meskimen

– Age: 61

– How long have you lived in Vail, and where did you come from originally?

“I have lived here for 31 years and came from Santa Barbara, Calif.”

– Occupation: Owner, Thank You Masked Man Services and Christmas by Masked Man

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– Political/government experience:

“Elected to the Vail Recreation Board; appointed to the town of Vail’s Design Review Board, Vail’s Business License Authority, the Eagle County Planning Commission, and the Pitkin Creek Condominium Association’s Board of Directors; taught hunter’s education for Eagle County.”

– 1) ” What specific concerns or issues led you to run for Vail Town Council?

“My concern is that the town of Vail remains fiscally responsible and viable ” not just for 20 years but for 50 and 100 years ” without losing it’s identity.”

– 2) ” What do residents of Vail want from local government, and how do you plan to meet their needs?

“I feel that the citizens of Vail want to be heard and their concerns listened to. I plan to keep an open mind and listen to all points of view.”

– 3) ” What personal qualities do you feel you offer that will best benefit town government?

“I have the ability to listen to the viewpoints of others and to take those viewpoints into consideration. Serving on the boards of the Vail Recreation District and Pitkin Creek Homeowners Association, I have learned the importance of fiscal responsibility. Running my own business for 27 years has shown me that you can dream, but you can’t always purchase.”

– 4) ” The most recent Vail Community Survey identified “sustaining economic vitality of businesses in Vail” as the most important issue on the minds of Vail’s residents. How do you plan to address that?

“I have no preconceived ideas. With the revitalization of Lionshead and the redevelopment of the Sonnenalp, the (Vail Village Inn) and the Chateau at Vail sites, the additional commercial spaces will generate new businesses and ideas. The new streetscape and Front Door projects will make Vail more appealing.”

– 5) ” Declining sales-tax revenues are being blamed for a decline in Vail’s economic vitality. If elected, how would you turn things around?

“I am not an economist nor am I a fortuneteller. We need to market the town and to streamline the town’s bureaucracy so that businesses can survive.”

– 6) ” A common question has been “how can the town help the business community?” But how do you think the business community could become less dependent on the town?

“As in the previous question, market the town and streamline the bureaucracy.”

– 7) ” A lot has been said recently on “accountability.” What does that mean to you?

“According to the dictionary, ‘accountability’ is being able to explain or to be answerable. I will work on making informed decisions based on facts and figures that support my decisions.”

– 8) ” Streetscape improvements, including adding snowmelt capabilities, are due to begin this spring and continue in phases for several years. How can the town and the business community work together to minimize the short-term negative impacts?

“First, the Front Door of Vail must be done. Once the delivery trucks are off the street, we can do the pavement improvement. When the streetscape begins, market the event as a chance to watch a town be reborn. Have viewing areas where people can watch the redevelopment. This can also be applied to Lionshead.”

– 9) ” The previous Town Council adopted tax incremental financing, or TIF, as a way of funding public improvements to go along with a substantial amount of privately funded redevelopment in Lionshead. How can you help ensure the process works to the advantage of both Vail and the larger community in the valley?

“Be fiscally responsible ” no cost overruns. I will only be elected to represent and govern Vail, not the county. What is the county doing for Vail?”

– 10) ” Traffic noise from Interstate 70 has become a big issue in Vail. Should the town get serious about burying the interstate, or do you think noise walls are the solution?

“The new town manager has the correct approach for now. If this does not work, then we need to enforce the speed limit on I-70 from the top of the pass through town. Driving I-70 in Denver, I find I do not like the look of the sound walls. As time progresses and land prices increase, the feasibility of tunneling will become more practical. Each mile of freeway consumes 44 acres of land. In an eight-mile stretch, that’s 352 viable acres.

– 11) ” Vail began as a ski resort and evolved into a community. Where do you see this ongoing evolution going over the next 10 years?

“The town limits may not expand over the years, but the community will grow. We have to strive to make it a viable community. By this, I mean that Vail has to become a place where not just second-home owners and seasonal workers live. There needs to be dwellings for the middle manager and the business owner.”

– 12) ” The Donovan Park Pavilion is the first permanent community amenity built by the Town of Vail since the Vail Public Library in 1983. What kind of facility, if any, would you most like to see in the future and how would you propose funding it?

“The conference center and the fourth level of the Lionshead parking structure are the next facilities to be built. The reason the conference center is being built before the fire station in West Vail is that the funding is in place through the hotel bed tax and the small additional sales tax being collected.

– 13) ” The approval of housing at Middle Creek and the purchase of Timber Ridge are significant steps in Vail’s efforts to bring affordable housing to its employees. Do you believe the town should be more involved ” or less involved ” in providing housing?

“The lower rents for seasonal employees are OK for now. The town needs to look forward to ways to keep middle management and new business owners living and owning in Vail.”

With his gruff voice, no-nonsense manner, ever-present knit hat and bushy, salt-and-pepper mustache, Lewis “Lou” Meskimen can seem like one of those guys right out of a Hemingway novel, or perhaps an old movie.

The 61-year-old business owner started Thank You Masked Man Services ” a full-service janitorial and landscaping company based in Minturn that’s perhaps more well-known for its Christmas decorating operations ” nearly three decades ago. While he’s often mistaken for that grouchy ol’ character actor Wilfred Brimley, he says, that doesn’t mean he’s following a script in running for a seat on the Vail Town Council. Meskimen is one of three candidates in the race to replace longtime councilman and former mayor Ludwig Kurz in Tuesday’s special election.

“I’m an independent. I’m even registered to vote that way,” says Meskimen. “I try to keep myself from having preset conclusions until everyone has spoken. If I’m leaning one way, but something comes up, I can change my mind.”

‘Just one of those deals’

Typically sporting a long, white beard ” he shaves it off after Christmas every year, he says, as it complicates a certain Yuletide role he plays ” Meskimen was born and raised in Iowa, Illinois and Michigan before moving to Southern California as a young man. He soon was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany as a medic, and after his discharge he stayed in Germany for five years.

“That’s where I learned how to ski and that I loved the mountains,” he says.

Meskimen ultimately returned to the United States to earn a teaching credential at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before moving to Vail 31 years ago to take a job managing the then-new Montaneros condominium in Lionshead. In all that time, he’s never been married nor had any kids.

“It’s just one of those deals,” he says.

Middle of the road

Philosophically, Meskimen has been hard to pin down since declaring his candidacy for the Town Council last month. While the political leanings of his opponents, Mark Gordon and Farrow Hitt, tend to fall along traditional lines, Meskimen is definitely more middle-of-the-road. For example, fielding a question at a recent candidates forum about the potential for higher property taxes, Gordon left the door wide open, saying “of course we can talk about that.” Hitt, meanwhile, said the town should instead focus on being financially responsible with the revenues it has now.

Meskimen, however, said that if property taxes were raised, he’d like to make sure the additional revenues stay within the town limits and do not go toward filling Eagle County’s coffers. He also said Vail should look at other sources of revenues, such as a tax on services like he renders with his own business.

“Economically, I’m conservative. I have to be; I’m a business owner,” he says. “What we need most is to realize we cannot be like 10 and 20 years ago, when we had unlimited growth in revenues and could do anything we thought of. Now, we’re sliding. We’ll pull out of it, but maybe we should be more like the guy who, when he opens up his coin purse, moths come flying out.”

Finding a niche

Meskimen, in fact, uses “fiscal responsibility” as a mantra, of sorts. But perhaps that comes from having watched Vail grow from a fledgling resort with nothing but possibilities to a world-renowned destination with severe growing pains.

“It was a different atmosphere in the early days. Everybody in the community lived in town; nobody had anything; and people chipped in. They still do,” says Meskimen. “Time changes things, and it’s not always bad. A lot of us have turned down good-paying jobs over the years to be here. We did various odd jobs and found our niche.

“Housing has always been expensive,” he adds. “Comparatively, it’s actually cheaper today.”

Over the years, Meskimen has dabbled in local politics, with stints on the Vail Recreation District’s board of directors, the town’s Design Review Board and committees that oversee liquor and business licenses. He’s also served the broader community as a member of the Eagle County Planning Commission. Meskimen also is proud to say he’s been on the board of directors for the homeowners association at the Pitkin Creek Condominiums in East Vail, where he’s lived for 24 years.

“I’ve always been very civic-minded. And those experiences taught me there’s more than my own particular point of view,” says Meskimen. “You’ve got to listen to people in meetings and on the street and do a lot of your own research.”

Meskimen says being a public official has changed over the years, what with the ever-increasing size and complexity of government.

“On the planning commission, I had no problem buying my own books on community development,” he says. “You have staff, and you have to believe in them. But you don’t want what I call ‘the mushroom syndrome,’ where you’re kept in the dark and fed.”

Unique perspective

With Vail gearing up for the better part of a billion dollars in private and public redevelopment projects over the next few years, Meskimen’s time spent in the community does add a perspective clearly unique in the three-way race for the last remaining seat on the Town Council, a post Meskimen seems honored to pursue.

“In the past, sometimes we didn’t look far into the future. It was more about getting the community started. Now, it’s a lot bigger and wealthier than we could have imagined, and we have to start thinking how things will go 20, 50 or even 100 years down the road,” he says. “The most important thing is being financially responsible with all these projects.”

Known for his busy schedule and hard-working ways, Meskimen says the past few years he’s felt “all banged up,” having undergone various operations on his knees and elsewhere.

“But now I feel whole again,” he says, “and I’m revamping my business so I can give more time to the town.”

For such a unique character, Meskimen doesn’t blink when asked if he has an idol. And his answer may go a long way toward pinning down his political philosophy and goals as a Vail town councilman.

“Harry Truman, coming through in a tough situation, making decisions and not passing the buck,” says Meskimen. “He had to make some rough decisions, but he got the country on good economic footing for the next guy.”

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