Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan Blames Alcoholism for Public Bender and Bar Brawl

PHOTO: Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan is refusing to step down from office as requested by the city council following a 3-day bender that has besmirched the city?s name. Ryan, an admitted alcoholic, says his constituents remain supportive and is asking for anot
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Sheboygan, Wis., Mayor Bob Ryan says he shouldn't have to resign over a three-day bender and bar brawl, because he is an admitted alcoholic and is getting treatment.

The city council has requested that Ryan, who had had two previous public episodes of drunken and disorderly behavior, give up his post, but the mayor says many of his constituents still support him and he deserves "one more chance."

"It's not a pretty picture. It's shameful, it's embarrassing, it's indefensible, and unfortunately who I am and who I have been for a long time," Ryan told ABC News affiliate WBAY-TV in Green Bay. Ryan today declined an interview with ABC News.

Ryan told WBAY-TV he will be entering intensive treatment again for his alcoholism and is hoping that his public promise to the residents of Sheboygan will be enough to stave off a forced removal.

"I asked the people to give me this one more chance," he said. "If I fail at this, I will be the first to walk away before I hit the headlines."

Ryan's appeal to the fact that he has a disease and is seeking treatment brings up a contentious issue concerning whether alcoholism should be grounds for dismissal -- of any employee, or more specifically, of a public official. Ryan's binges have never been while on the job and he has not broken any laws or gotten behind the wheel, so at what point do his personal struggles with addiction become the city's concern?

Alderman Eric Rindfleisch, president of the Common Council, told the press on Thursday that he would support a move to have Ryan resign not because of his alcoholism, per se, but because of how the behavior reflects on the city and its people:

"I would no more remove someone for the disease of alcoholism than I would for the disease of cancer. It's not the alcoholism, it's the embarrassment issue to the city," he said.

Addiction experts agree that from a medical and a legal standpoint, the debate over Ryan's dismissal is a complex one.

"Solely for being an alcoholic, assuming the individual is abstinent and following a treatment plan, it is a form of disease-based discrimination," said Dr. Michael Spigarelli, a professor of Internal Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Utah. "This issue here is more than having a disease, it is the incapacity that the disease is causing that makes it difficult for an individual official to do the job they were elected to, mainly because the disease is in an active state rather than under control with treatment."

Other experts agreed that while resignation may not be necessary, surely anyone actively in the throws of an illness, alcoholism especially, should consider a medical leave of absence in order to devote himself to treatment.

In the meantime, while alcoholism may present mitigating factors to be considered in judging Ryan's misbehavior, experts said his addiction should not be used to excuse it.

"The legal construct of people not being responsible for doing things because of their disease state is not applicable here," said Robert Gwyther, a professor of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. "Serving as the governor is a privilege, not a right. If he has proven himself to be unfit for duty, then I do not believe he should use his alcoholism as an excuse to stay in office."

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Ultimately, whether Ryan is dismissed will be up to the Common Council and the people of Sheboygan. According to Ryan, he at least has a majority of support from the latter of those two.

Wisconsin is notoriously one of the heaviest drinking states and has a history of public officials with DUIs, so it's possible that Ryan's invoking his alcoholism will fall on friendly ears. Rep. Jeff Wood has had five DUIs and the mayor of Marinette was in a drunk driving crash earlier this July and neither have stepped down because of these issues.

On a message board for the Sheboygan Press, some city residents are voicing their opinions on the matter, many offering support and open acceptance. One wrote, "This is Sheboygan. People drink here. No one expects anything different."

Others are more concerned with having a leader who falls off the wagon. One contributer wrote, "Would you trust this guy with the keys to your car ... then why should we trust him with the keys to the city?"

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