State law gives 2 ways that a local elected leader such as Windsor’s Dominic Foppoli can be removed from office
With disgraced Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli poised to stand his ground and defy calls to leave office, what options will outraged residents have to remove him if he does not resign?
There are only two ways a local elected official, such as a city council member or county supervisor, can be removed from office in California: by voter-initiated recall or by felony conviction.
Already, some in Windsor are moving toward the first option. And law enforcement officials have begun investigating the assault claims brought forward by four women in a San Francisco Chronicle story documenting alleged sexual assaults by Foppoli in encounters spanning from 2003 to 2019.
In the wake of the revelations, the 38-year-old vintner and politician came under immediate and immense pressure from fellow elected officials, Windsor constituents and county residents to resign.
Foppoli, however, has signaled he does not intend to do so. On Thursday afternoon he told Cloverdale Mayor Jason Turner, head of the county’s mayors and councilmembers’ group, that he would not be stepping down.
He has denied the allegations through a statement issued by his attorney and has not offered any fuller public response.
A nascent campaign to force him from office has taken shape on Windsor’s streets, including at demonstrations on the Town Green and along its main Highway 101 overpass on Friday. Protesters held signs calling for Foppoli to resign, but recall was on some protesters’ minds as well.
“I would like to see him step down, but if not he needs to be recalled,” said JoAnn Hamilton, 74 and a Windsor resident of 30 years. Because of the detailed allegations shared by the four women, Hamilton said, “I think he’s guilty. Because of that he is not fit to serve as mayor.”
The recall push also has taken root online, where a petition calling for Foppoli to resign had more than 450 signatures by noon on Friday.
A preexisting Facebook group, Recall Dominic Foppoli, saw a new flood of traffic, with commenters calling on Foppoli to resign and the initiation of a recall if he doesn’t. Its first and only previous post was a Feb. 24 video of a woman named Joelle La Bonte complaining about Foppoli’s treatment of local businesses, which she said he’d let down as mayor. By Friday, those complaints had been swamped by the new outrage facing Foppoli.
The administrators of the Facebook site could not be reached through the Facebook page on Friday.
Recall “is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire,” the California Secretary of State's office says.
“It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives,” it says.
As of Friday afternoon, no recall petition had been filed with the Windsor Town Clerk’s office, according to clerk Maria De La O.
Courts have held that a recall ballot also must give voters the choice of a replacement.
Proponents need verified signatures from 20% of registered voters in a given jurisdiction to advance a recall to the ballot.
“At our last report of registration, Windsor had 16,878 registered voters. Based on those numbers, proponents of a recall would have to gather 20% of registered voters’ signatures in 120 days,” said Deva Proto, Sonoma County’s registrar of voters.
Both the 20% threshold and the 120-day window are set by state law and tied to a voting district’s population.
On the other hand, California Government Code Section 1770 says that a political office “becomes vacant” for a variety of reasons, including the official’s “conviction of a felony or of any offense involving a violation of his or her official duties.”
The removal is automatic, and the governor appoints a successor.
The disqualification from holding office upon conviction is not stayed by either the filing of an appeal or success in the appeal process.
The mayors of Sonoma County’s eight other cities on Friday began discussing how to proceed if Foppoli won’t resign, Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell said. “We don’t really have a lot of legal moves to force him out of office,” she said. “We’re going to suggest and support a recall motion if that’s the way we have to go.”
Mitchell hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. “Really, really, really, come on Dominic. It’s time to resign,” she said.
Criminal investigations into the allegations against Foppoli also are beginning. Officials in Town Hall, which contracts with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for police service, have asked the department to investigate and Sheriff Mark Essick on Thursday said he would.
“These allegations are troubling, shocking and, if verified through our investigation, they constitute criminal actions, and we will prosecute them to the fullest extent,” Essick said.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch also is investigating the allegations against Foppoli, she said on Friday.
“We have been in contact with individuals who have information concerning the allegations contained in the reporting,” she said, while declining to detail the investigation further. Ravitch encouraged others with knowledge about the case to approach her office.
“Our hope is that the information about the mayor’s conduct and the strength of the victims in coming forward will encourage others who may have been victimized by anyone to seek assistance,” she said.
Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to clarify that while Joelle La Bonte was featured in a video posted Feb. 24 on a preexisting Facebook page dedicated to Dominic Foppoli’s recall, La Bonte is not responsible for the recall page.