Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA CITY HALL – Every December, the City Council names its mayor and vice mayor for the year to come, and rejiggers the numerous liaison responsibilities the five councilmembers have in relating to the outside world.
For the past year, Brett Watson has served as mayor and Michael Winkler as vice mayor. Under provisions of its newly revised Protocol Manual, the council could select its new leaders by rotation, or pick and choose as it’s always done. With little discussion, it decided to go with the rotational method.
Watson nominated Winkler as mayor, with the motion seconded by Winkler. The motion carried 4–1, with Councilmember Sofia Pereira dissenting.
After the seat swap, Winkler nominated Councilmember Paul Pitino, with a second by Pereira. Pitino was unanimously voted in as vice.
Watson thanked City Attorney Nancy Diamond and City Manager Karen Diemer for invaluable support during his time as mayor.
Convening as the city’s Joint Powers Authority, Winkler and Pitino were elected chair and vice chair.
After the meeting, Periera declined to elaborate on why she had not voted to affirm Winkler as mayor. She referred to her remarks during last year’s selection meeting. It occurred during the aftermath of the vote during which Arcata voters voted decisively to remove the statue of President William McKinley from the Plaza.
Winkler had been heavily criticized for his conduct as an opponent for statue removal. Among other tactics, he had penned an "open letter" to then-Mayor Pereira over her support for removal, in which he characterized statue opponents – many of them persons of color objecting to McKinley's conduct with regard to African Americans – as a “lynch mob.”
At last year’s meeting, Pereira had spoken up with “concerns,” which she said she had already talked to Winkler about personally. She called into question Winkler’s “ability and credibility to lead our community in an additional leadership role at this time.”
Winkler also signed a ballot argument claiming that statue removal would cost more than a half-million dollars and cause layoffs of police officers or other city staff, or lead to a tax increase.
“To balance our budget, a $525,000 project would require either cutting services—terminating approximately eight city employees (eight fewer police officers or the entire recreation department),” Winkler and other statue supporters had claimed. “That or raise taxes.”
Statue removal ended up costing the city – 3 percent of the fearful projection.
Winkler is also compromised in serving as mayor due to his personal business entanglements. His company, Redwood Energy, continued to consult with developer AMCAL after it had submitted a project – the Village housing development – for city approval. That disqualified him from participating in the matter and left the City Council with four members and a tied vote on the matter.
Prior business relations will prevent him from participating in the decision on DANCO’s Creek Side Homes project at this Wednesday’s council meeting as well.
For his part, Winkler has no regrets about any of it. Asked about the false and divisive statements and his inability to participate in major council decisions, he offered no direct response, but described himself as "courageous" and providing "excellent service to the residents of Arcata."
“I am extremely proud of my role in the statue controversy.
“I disrupted a highly undemocratic process and forced it to a democratic resolution.
“It was the most courageous action that I have ever done in my 11 years in office.
“If I had not done so, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
“My successful goal has been to maximize the availability of high-quality, solar housing to low-income people in Arcata and throughout California. In Arcata, I have done so unpaid so that I could be fully in compliance with California conflict-of-interest regulations.
“In both of these circumstances, I have been able to provide excellent service to the residents of Arcata and will continue to do so in the coming year as Mayor.”
FPPC: Winkler has to sit out Creek Side Homes
The City Council has a number of weighty matters before it this Wednesday, including the historic annexation of 16 acres of the Arcata Bottom west of Foster Avenue to create DANCO's Creek Side Homes housing development.
But as with The Village, Mayor Winkler won't be able to participate in the council's deliberations due to his private business dealings. In fact, according to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), he can't even be in the room when it's discussed.
That will again leave an even-numbered council vulnerable to a tied vote to rule on the matter.
Read the FPPC's opinion: