The Wasco City Council agreed to schedule a vote to consider removing Mayor Alex Garcia from office following an alleged drunken driving incident in May.
During a packed Tuesday evening meeting, all members of the council except Garcia directed City Manager Scott Hurlbert to place an item on the next meeting’s agenda to either confirm Garcia’s position as mayor or appoint a new member to the role.
Garcia has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of driving while under the influence. He did not address the charges on Tuesday nor did he or his attorney respond to requests for comment from The Californian on Wednesday.
In the highly-charged, emotional meeting, many members of the community voiced support for the embattled mayor, and some implied the council’s attempt to strip him of his title was a result of him identifying as gay.
“We know what your hidden agenda is. It’s not hidden anymore,” said one speaker who identified herself as Jessica Mahoney. “It’s ridiculous. It’s 2021. This is ridiculous to have this talk.”
The council members, however, strongly denied they were motivated by Garcia’s sexual orientation. The four members other than the mayor attempted to focus the discussion on Garcia’s alleged misconduct.
“This is not about the mayor being a member of the LGBTQ community,” Mayor Pro Tem Gilberto Reyna said. “It’s about the mayor making a decision that could have been disastrous.”
According to a California Highway Patrol offense report, Garcia was pulled over at 11:57 p.m. May 21, for allegedly driving around 80 miles per hour on Highway 43, where the speed limit is 65 miles per hour.
The officer said in the report he observed Garcia with red and watery eyes and smelled the odor of alcohol.
At around 12:45 a.m., Garcia took two breath tests that reported .08 percent blood alcohol content, the report says, above the legal limit. Garcia was then taken to his residence before he was cited and released, according to CHP.
He is next due in court Aug. 19 for a pre-trial conference.
The incident has “consumed” the city of Wasco, Councilman Vincent Martinez said during the meeting. Garcia has worked to gain publicity for the city, a feat he accomplished in late June when a Los Angeles Times columnist wrote an article on Garcia’s attempt to fly the Pride flag at City Hall.
The council ultimately voted against raising the Pride flag and Garcia’s high profile has served to heighten the public’s awareness of the allegations against him.
“I think it’s naive to think that this isn’t a distraction for our community,” Martinez told Garcia during the meeting. “Look at this room, it’s full. I can’t walk into the local Walmart without having somebody approach me to ask me why you haven’t resigned yet.”
Councilmen urged Garcia to resign rather than force a vote, something he has so far refused to do. If he is removed from office, one of the sitting councilmen will likely be appointed as mayor.
In Wasco, the mayor has no powers beyond that of a council member and serves a largely ceremonial role, presiding over council meetings and attending public events like ribbon-cuttings.
The next Wasco City Council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 3.