The Mesa City Council will vote Thursday on whether District 3 Mesa Councilmember Ryan Winkle will keep his seat after his May 7 extreme DUI arrest.
Is Winkle an unlucky man or is he an alcoholic?
That was my main question when I sat down with Winkle recently for a one-on-one interview, followed by the question: “Why didn’t you just call an Uber?”
“That evening was filled with a bunch of bad decisions,” Winkle said. “We called an Uber but then they brought our car to us at the Arizona Grand and we ended up driving. Our intention was to take an Uber, but the way the Arizona Grand is spread out we didn’t think they would find us.”
Addressing my first question, Winkle said: “I think it is bad luck and I just need to not drink.”
He noted his apology press conference in May.
“I’m not trying to minimize this, but I’ve been on an apology tour since it happened and it’s embarrassing,” Winkle said. “These people care about District 3 and now I’ve killed their hope.
Winkle said he has been in counseling for drinking and that the experience makes him feel even more confident that he’s not an alcoholic.
“I don’t drink often and we don’t keep much alcohol around, especially with the baby in the house,” Winkle said. “But, alcohol has become a problem for me because I have two DUIs. I’m at these AA meetings hearing stories that make me think I don’t have the issues these other people have.”
Winkle knows someday when his 18-month-old son grows up he’ll have to explain what happened.
“Yes, that will be a sad day when I have to explain this to him. He already is very intuitive and can tell something is wrong,” Winkle said.
Winkle served his six days at Tent City July 21-27. His 49 days of home detention started immediately after and he’s monitored with an ankle bracelet and gets 12 hours a day work release.
If the City Council votes to remove him from office on Aug. 31, Winkle said he’d be “very disappointed” but that he plans to continue what he has always done: “helping small businesses and promoting Mesa.”
On Aug. 7, Winkle ended his voluntary suspension without pay. He had been on voluntary suspension without pay since May 17.
“If you do a crime I firmly believe you must pay for it, but what is a fair amount of justice?” Winkle said, adding that he feels the council is on a “witch hunt.”
Winkle said whatever happens on Aug. 31, he will continue to “focus on being positive and doing the right thing. I will do any punishment under removal from office and I’m willing to do it tomorrow. We don’t have to be spending all this money.”
He said the experience has him questioning City Hall.
“I’ve been learning more about council and how it works going through this experience and many times I can’t get answers to my questions,” Winkle said. “We work for the voter, not posturing to each other and not to the people. We need to move our offices out of the seventh floor and onto Main Street.”
Winkle said he hopes his constituents “understand I will continue to say I’m sorry for the next 10 years. No one wants to lose someone based on someone else’s bad decision.”
Not the first DUI
He said his first extreme DUI in 2008 changed his life.
“I got rid of my car and rode my bicycle for years. I didn’t even have a civic thought back then but it was life changing in that I was reading a lot and then after starting the Mesa Urban Garden, I became civically minded and wanted to continue projects like that. It was a ripple effect. It led to my decision to run for office because I know there is much more I can do for this community.”
Winkle has spent the summer being very vocal about his feelings on the legal process at City Hall and telling anyone who will listen that it’s a “witch hunt.”
This has many around town buzzing about the slanderous Report Mesa Corruption Facebook page, which singles out Mayor John Giles as “Lying John Giles,” and whether Winkle is behind that social media account that popped up shortly after his DUI troubles in May.
Winkle denies any connection although an Instagram post linked him as the writer for the Report Mesa Corruption page (see attached photo).
When reporters began to ask him about it, the post was removed and Winkle said: “My accounts were hacked and I put a formal complaint in and changed all my passwords.” (He also posted the attached social media link).
Whether Winkle is behind the social media page or not, Giles said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the issue before the Aug. 31 disciplinary hearing.
“With that said, whomever is responsible for these slanderous and inaccurate social media pages should be ashamed,” Giles said. “This type of anonymous site undermines civil discourse and represents all that is wrong with social media and politics. Mesa residents deserve much better.”
Former Vice Mayor and District 3 Councilmember Dennis Kavanaugh, who represented Winkle’s district for 17 out of the last 20 years, continues to support his successor.
“My first term on City Council, in 1996 and in 1997, we had to vote to remove two councilmembers for conduct involving dishonesty in the performance of their official duties as councilmembers,” Kavanaugh said. “After that time, I chaired the Ethics Committee Task Force at the direction of the City Council. We drafted the ethics code for elected officials and advisory board members as well as proposed charter changes to implement the ethics code. The code was unanimously adopted by the City Council in January 1999 and the charter changes were approved by Mesa voters in March 2000.
“In section IV of the ethics code, the council is advised that discipline ‘shall be progressive from least punitive to the most punitive’ unless the council decides either that progressive discipline does not provide the appropriate sanction due to the gravity of the offense or the council believes the sanction would not deter future misconduct.”
Kavanaugh pointed out: “The misdemeanor charge against Ryan is a significant matter but it is not a felony. This is not an offense that occurred in the performance of his official duties (as was the case for the two prior councilmembers who were removed from office).”
He said Winkle “has accepted responsibility for his action and has been taking steps to address the issues” and that “punishment for DUI’s is not designed for people to lose their jobs. That is why work release is used … I know the residents of District 3 very well. Ryan won a decisive victory in his August 2016 election and received positive reviews from residents for his first four months in office.
“I do believe that the council should impose sanctions on Ryan for this matter and that they should include reprimand or censure,” Kavanaugh continued. “These sanctions should not be taken lightly as they will always be associated with his political career. But I do not believe it is appropriate for the council to remove Ryan from his position on the council. The concept of progressive discipline as contained in the Mesa code and charter should prevail based on the facts of this case.”
Kavanaugh believes that the removal from office decision “should be left to the residents of District 3,” not fellow councilmembers.
“Ryan retains significant support in District 3 but its residents do expect him to accept responsibility for what he did and to conduct himself in an exemplary manner in the future,” Kavanaugh said. “I do not think the council should substitute its judgment on who represents those of us who live in District 3.”
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.