The Mesa City Council ousted Ryan Winkle from the board Thursday for violating the city’s charter following a DUI charge.
The unanimous decision came after three hours of witness testimony and back-and-forth between lawyers.
The council decided during the disciplinary hearingthat Winkle broke the board’s code of ethics and demonstrated a lack of fitness for office when police say he drove drunk in the early hours of May 7.
Winkle struggled to withhold tears while talking with the media after the vote.
“I love Mesa,” he said, eyes puffy.
A city spokesman said the council has 30 days to fill Winkle’s seat.
Winkle, 38, was a first-time councilman, who took office just four months prior to his DUI arrest. He runs a community-development consulting firm, and is highly involved in downtown revitalization and the city’s Asian business district.
He said his work with those causes won’t change. He just won’t have the councilman title any longer.
“It’s not the end of my story,” he said.
Thursday’s hearing, although not a trial, had all of the characteristics of one.
The city hired an outside attorney, Charles Wirken, to oversee the proceedings. Wirken called witnesses, reviewed police documents and aired body-camera footage to show council members how Winkle acted in the moments following his arrest.
Winkle’s attorney, Tim La Sota, objected to many of Wirken’s maneuvers.
He said he didn’t understand why the lawyer had to bring in two police officers and a forensic scientist as witnesses when there was no objection over what occurred. Winkle had admitted to driving drunk, pleaded guilty in a court of law and had already served jail time, La Sota said.
But the council, acting as the judge and jury, allowed Wirken to continue.
A city staffer and Winkle also testified.
Most of the testimony focused on details of Winkle’s behavior that have widely been reported, like his lies to police officers and refusal to take an initial breath-test.
But the testimony did reveal a few other previously undisclosed details.
Most notably, Winkle said Mayor John Giles asked him to resign several times after his arrest.
Winkle also told the council that the day leading up to his arrest, he attended five community events. He drank at three of them, he said.
Winkle dropped off his son at his in-laws’ home in Scottsdale prior to attending the last event of the day: the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball. It was the first time his son would stay somewhere overnight without Winkle or his wife, he said.
By the time he arrived at the ball, he said he did not plan to stay long. But after a few people brought him drinks, he decided to stay.
“Once (the drinks) kept on coming, now I feel like I can let loose a little bit after so many months and years of really running hard,” Winkle said.
He said he could not remember how much he drank that night.
A forensic scientist used a calculator to estimate how much Winkle drank.
She based the formula on his gender, 180 pounds of weight and a blood-alcohol content of 0.22 percent.
The result: The ethanol in his bloodstream was the equivalent of 10.7 “standard drinks,” like a 12-ounce beer with 4 percent alcohol, she said.
City staffer weighs in
Things got testy when Mesa Public Information Officer Randy Policar shared his story of Winkle’s conduct in the days following his arrest.
Policar said he was unaware of Winkle’s arrest until a reporter from The Arizona Republic called to ask him about it. When he talked to Winkle, the councilman downplayed the arrest and suggested it would be good for him because he could be a “keynote speaker” at DUI recovery events, Policar said.
“I do not feel that he had any shame or remorse, no,” Policar said.
Policar previously gave a sworn statement about Winkle’s desire to accuse police of making the situation seem worse than it was.
Winkle had never made those comments publicly.
Winkle and his lawyer vehemently denied Policar’s statements and criticized the city for asking one of its employees to “trash” Winkle in an affidavit.
In their closing statements, the two lawyers painted different pictures of Winkle’s behavior.
Wirken said Winkle’s lies to police and intentions of discrediting officers made a bad situation even worse.
“In this situation, the extreme DUI, which was really a super extreme DUI but it was pled down, is grave by itself. But the totality of circumstances are even worse.” Wirken said.
La Sota said that while Winkle’s misstep was severe, his crime did not involve violence and does not merit a severe discipline, like forfeiture of office.
“If we view this in its totality, it does not rise to the level of something that this body should remove a member for,” La Sota said. “This is a matter that should be left to the voters.”
He previously told council members that he did not believe the city charter allowed them to remove a fellow elected official over a misdemeanor DUI charge.
None of the council members spoke before casting their votes.
They voted unanimously, 6-0, to boot Winkle from his seat and quickly ended the meeting.
Then many of the council members and city staff hugged Winkle.
After the vote, Winkle’s mother shouted at the council members.
“He has done more for the city of Mesa than you all know. And you all know it,” Barbara Rae said.
She also accused Giles of bias in her son’s disciplinary hearing.
La Sota was visibly frustrated with the outcome. He said the city should not have paid about $50,000 for a law firm to bring a case against Winkle when “they obviously were going to dump him no matter what.”
“It was just a very expensive charade, and they should have just taken action and not wasted all this money … orchestrating a political hit on someone who pled guilty anyway,” he said.
After the vote, Winkle told reporters he could run for council again in 2018. But he’s not sure he will.
“I haven’t thought about it. Right now I’ve just been trying to get past this,” Winkle said.
He said he was disappointed in the council’s decision, but realized they were under a lot of political pressure to make a tough decision.
When asked if he thought the disciplinary process was fair, Winkle hesitated.
“I mean, you know, it’s as fair as it can be. It’s a highly pressurized thing,” he said.
In a statement released after the hearing, the council said, “It wasn’t a decision we came to lightly, but … we felt this was the appropriate course of action.”
“As elected officials we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct to protect the integrity of the office and trust of the people we represent. We wish Ryan well and look forward to the future,” the statement said.