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Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli says he will ‘step back’ from Town Council role while under investigation

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

Disgraced Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli steadfastly refused to yield his position Friday, announcing that he would “step back from an active role” in local governance while defying pervasive demands that he quit his post as the town’s first directly elected mayor.

In response to widespread condemnation and calls for his resignation in the wake of explosive allegations that he sexually assaulted six women, Foppoli said “it has become clear to me that the Town Council will not function at the level expected by its citizens if I remain actively involved, given the strong reaction to the allegations against me.”

It’s the latest indication that Foppoli intends to try to hold out, despite incensed expressions of disapproval from constituents — including some who have called him a sociopath, and still others, a sexual predator.

His resignation is sought widely by residents and public officials, including all members of the Windsor Town Council, who decried his latest plans on Friday.

“It’s just unacceptable,“ said Vice Mayor Sam Salmon. ”There’s no sense trying to describe it.“

All of the other eight mayors in Sonoma County, all five members of the county Board of Supervisors, state lawmakers from the area and both of the county’s congressmen have also called on him to step down.

But in a text message Friday, following a six-hour public meeting Wednesday filled with scathing denunciations and emotionally raw testimony from sexual assault survivors, Foppoli again signaled that he would not do so, while also acknowledging his presence at the top of Windsor government was disruptive.

“Though I maintain full innocence under the law, I have decided to step back from an active role as Mayor until the formal investigation is complete,” he wrote. “I do not want my presence or participation to create a distraction or cause any additional hurt for our residents.”

His fellow council members said unanimously that it was not enough.

While Foppoli’s absence might improve the council’s ability to hold meetings and conduct business free from the distraction of protests, his defiance of community demands that he resign could further enrage an already irate public, contributing to greater disruption, Salmon said.

Foppoli’s refusal to leave office also means continued uncertainty for the town and its governing body, Salmon said, but it at least alleviates “a huge distraction in the room of him working with us, or attempting to work with us, or us trying to not work with that entity.”

“That’s where we were going, I believe, was, How can we make this mayor’s position invisible if they are going to remain in office?” he said. “That would take some work.”

Veteran Councilwoman Debora Fudge echoed his sentiment, as did Councilwoman Esther Lemus, who a week ago became the sixth woman publicly to accuse Foppoli of sexual assault, saying she suspected him of drugging her to facilitate unwanted sex twice last year, including once when she believes she was sodomized while unconscious.

“Mayor Foppoli has not listened to the unequivocal demands of our community to resign,” Lemus said in a written statement.

“While he remains as mayor, there will continue to be a cloud over Windsor and our residents, causing a distraction and the inability of the council to properly govern,” she added. “I join my colleagues on the Council in continuing to demand that he resigns immediately.”

Council members are in a difficult position because they don’t have the power to remove Foppoli from office themselves.

He can be recalled by the voters, and a group already is organizing a campaign, with plans to file a notice of intent to recall him next week, said Tim Zahner, who is spearheading that move. Proponents would need to get recall petitions signed by 20% of the town’s voters, or 3,376 signatures, in order to call an election, Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Deva Proto said.

But the process takes several months at least and would cost the town of 28,000 people $50,000 to $85,000, Proto said.

There may be additional avenues, including a civil grand jury indictment used infrequently in California to remove elected and appointed individuals from office, though Joan Cassman, who is serving as town counsel on matters related to Foppoli and the allegations, was not familiar with the process, which is outlined under California Government Code 3060.

In addition, if Foppoli is absent without permission from all regular council meetings for 60 days consecutively, his office can be deemed vacant under Government Code 36513 (a), though it appears Foppoli could thwart the code by attending a single meeting in that period.

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

Felony conviction would strip him from public office. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office launched its investigation into allegations against Foppoli on April 8, the same day the San Francisco Chronicle published its exhaustive report describing the claims made by four women who say Foppoli sexually assaulted them between 2003 and 2019. The list of public accusers has since grown to six, including Lemus.

Windsor council members said Foppoli is somehow missing the larger picture of what has transpired over the past 10 days and the totality of his political and social downfall in the face of specific, detailed allegations and a long-established reputation for aggressive sexual behavior toward women.

“What Dominic does not understand is that his actions have made him unfit for service as a council member, and I insist that he resign,” Fudge said Friday. “I imagine there would still be hours of public comment at every meeting until he resigns. That will subvert the work that we need to get done here — the most important right now of which is balancing our budget before June.”

She added that Foppoli’s guilt or innocence in the specific allegations is not the only issue, but also allegations of unsettling conduct raised since they were made public, both during the community meeting and elsewhere, including reportedly lecherous behavior, excessive alcohol consumption and other misconduct.

Some of those allegations first surfaced in public warnings to the council, Fudge and Salmon included, as far back as 2017.

“Those behaviors described by people completely make him unfit to serve as mayor,” Fudge said of the misconduct described in Wednesday’s public meeting. “This is different from the allegations of six survivors. There are multiple aspects that make him unfit to serve.”

Foppoli said he would be able to signs resolutions and, “in extreme circumstances,” join meetings to ensure a quorum in the absence of another council member. The five-member council is currently one member short, pending a May 4 election to fill the seat.

Salmon said he was concerned, for instance, that a censure of Foppoli that both he and Fudge would like to see come to the council in the coming weeks could present problems if Foppoli is absent and Lemus recuses herself due to conflict of interest. But Cassman said she expected it would take long enough to formulate a censure that the fifth seat could be filled on the council, creating a quorum.

Removal from office through civil grand jury requires the jury majority to deliver an accusation to the county district attorney, and can result in a jury trial resulting in removal.

The procedure was used to remove a Mountain View councilman in 2002, when a jury convicted him of violating the city’s charter. Michael Martello, who was that city’s attorney at the time, said the grand jury can be activated by the district attorney.

“It’s called removal without impeachment,” Martello said. “The DA takes the accusations to a grand jury and puts them in front of a grand jury and says, ‘I think this person is violating the following.’”

It was no quick fix for getting a politician accused of wrongdoing out of elected office, Martello said. The entire process took about six months.

In this case, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has recused her office from the investigation because Lemus works for her as a deputy district attorney. The Sheriff’s Office is leading the criminal investigation, and the state Attorney General’s Office would handle any prosecution. An office spokesperson could not be reached for comment Friday.

For his part, Foppoli said he had come to his decision to step back “through prayer and in speaking with residents over the source of this week,” and was acting out of love he had held for Windsor “my whole life.”

“I will take this time to sit quietly, and reflect on my life,” Foppoli wrote. “I know that Vice Mayor Salmon will lead with dedication through this turbulent time. Thank you to everyone who continues to have faith in our political and judicial processes and in our wonderful Town.”

Staff Writer Andrew Graham contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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