Councilman Ryan Winkle talks about pleading guilty on July 20, 2017, in his DUI case in Tempe city court and what that means for his term on the Mesa City Council going forward. Jessica Boehm/azcentral.com
Mesa has already spent nearly 10 times that amount on outside lawyers who are facilitating Winkle’s disciplinary investigation and hearing with the city.
After Winkle was arrested on suspicion of DUI in May, the city hired Gust Rosenfeld, a prominent law firm in the Valley, to serve as outside counsel for the city’s discipline process.
Mesa’s process for disciplining council members is two-fold. First, the council must vote to hold a disciplinary hearing. Then, at least a month later, the council will make a final determination on discipline during the hearing. The council can choose from a variety of punishments, including removal from office.
The council voted to move forward with the disciplinary hearing on June 15. The hearing won’t occur until Aug. 31, but the city had already racked up $36,000 in legal expenses from May 16 to June 30, according to public records obtained by The Arizona Republic.
Winkle, reached by phone Tuesday during his work release from jail, said he thought the spending was “crazy” and unnecessary.
“For me, this is something that we could work out ourselves,” Winkle said.
He noted that if the legal fees continue at the same rate through August, the city will have spent more than $60,000 on his discipline, close to the annual salary of a police officer.
“This is taxpayer money, you know,” Winkle said.
Tyler Montague of the Public Integrity Alliance, a group vocally opposed to Winkle, blamed Winkle for the waste of money.
“It’s just disappointing that it’s had to go to this. He should have resigned the week after it happened,” Montague said.
City spokesman Steve Wright said it’s common for cities to contract an outside law firm instead of using the city attorney for disciplinary procedures to avoid the appearance of favoritism one way or another.
Wright said Winkle is technically one of City Attorney Jim Smith’s bosses, which would put Smith in an “awkward” position if he were asked to facilitate Winkle’s disciplinary hearing.
Tempe also used outside counsel recently for two disciplinary investigations into Councilman Kolby Granville. The city spent $20,000 on those investigations.
Wright noted the extent of Gust Rosenfeld’s investigation makes the cost of services understandable. He said the attorneys have to go through police reports and conduct interviews, among other things.
“When there’s something like this, they’ve got to be thorough to make sure they’re being complete in the investigation that they’re doing,” Wright said.
Invoices from Gust Rosenfeld show the city pays between $165 and $395 per hour for paralegals and lawyers to work on the discipline process. That’s with a 15 percent discount because of the city’s relationship with the firm, according to Mesa’s contract with Gust Rosenfeld.
Descriptions of the services conducted by lawyers and paralegals were redacted from the invoices provided to The Republic.
Winkle said he’s not necessarily confident that the council will allow him to retain his elected seat, but he is confident that he’s “doing the right thing” to prove to them that he should.
“I’m working hard to get through this. I’m still doing stuff for community, and I hope (the council) will see that,” Winkle said. “I hope they’ll do the right thing.”
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