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Special election next step as Windsor council impasse over vacant seat continues

After three meetings in which Windsor Town Council members have deadlocked over how to fill the council’s vacant fifth seat, it appears that voters will ultimately decide who fills the open spot.

On Thursday, Town Manager Ken MacNab said that because council “could not come to an agreement” during its most recent meeting Wednesday night, according to state law, a special election will have to take place by default. **

A resolution calling for the special election, which will likely occur on April 12, 2022, will be placed on the consent calendar for passage without discussion during council’s Aug. 4 meeting, MacNab added.

The issue has previously been discussed during council meetings on June 16 and July 7.

During Wednesday’s nearly six-hour session, Windsor residents urged town leaders to reach a decision, but council again declared an impasse.

“It’s pretty obvious we’re still at 2-2,“ Mayor Sam Salmon said.

Wednesday’s contentious council discussion included accusations made by those in favor of a special election who accused councilmembers Esther Lemus and Debora Fudge of having special interests.

Unfazed, Fudge and Lemus maintained their beliefs that appointment would be the best way to fill the seat.

Fudge said that despite numerous attacks made against her online, she believes an election would “add more angst for a long period of time. I don’t think our town can survive that.”

Lemus explained that she’d supported the previous special election in May, which resulted in Councilwoman Rosa Reynoza’s election to council.

Another special election, Lemus said, would be “financially irresponsible” for the town.

“We cannot have special elections over and over and over,” she added.

According to a staff report, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters’ services would cost between $50,000 and $85,000. Staff time and legal costs would be an additional $40,000 to $50,000.

Reynoza, who said an overwhelming majority of residents want to cast a ballot, said she supports a special election.

“The money issue should not be brought up,” she added.

Around 20 people commented during Wednesday’s meeting and while a number of them pushed for an appointment, many others supported an election. Still others just wanted the council to make a decision.

“As the adage goes: ‘You need to lead, follow or get out of the way,’ ” Windsor resident Lance Sloan said, adding that he doesn’t envy Windsor leaders their jobs.

Dozens of residents also emailed in their opinions, with the majority expressing their preference for a special election.

“Please allow the citizens of Windsor the opportunity to VOTE for the current 5th seat opening on the Town Council. We deserve and have the right to make the choice of who should lead us,” Pam Geiss, a Windsor resident for more than 30 years, wrote in her email.

“In light of the tribulations that we have undergone in this last year it is imperative that we, as town residents, feel that we have a say in the future of our town's direction as well as leadership to take us in the right direction,” added 31-year-resident Lillian Fonseca-Cierley, who also emailed council.

The winner of the April 2022 special election will hold the open seat through Dec. 2022.

The current vacancy stems from council’s 3-1 vote on June 2 for Salmon, then-vice mayor, to become mayor. Reynoza cast the lone dissenting vote.

Former Mayor Dominic Foppoli stepped down on May 21 amid multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.

Foppoli, who co-owns Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg, abruptly resigned after Palm Beach, Fla. authorities launched an investigation into an allegation of sexual battery brought against him by former reality television personality Farrah Abraham.

Until Abraham’s allegations became public, Foppoli, who denies any wrongdoing, had defied calls for his resignation from the rest of the council and nearly every Sonoma County elected official.

Abraham is the ninth woman to publicly accuse Foppoli of assault, battery, rape or sexual misconduct. Among them is Lemus, who alleges Foppoli drugged and assaulted her.

On Wednesday, the council also discussed whether the role of mayor, which currently lasts for two years, should change from an at-large elected position to an appointed role with a four-year term.

The item was pushed to the council’s Aug. 4 meeting.

Because Town Council members are elected to represent a district, an appointed mayor position would require Windsor to create a fifth town district, which is also expected to be discussed next month.

In other business

The council voted 4-0 to declare a Level 2 Water Shortage Emergency and issue mandatory water restrictions.

The town is trying to reduce water usage by 20%, which falls in line with an overall state goal.

Under the restrictions, which apply to residential and commercial properties, watering can only be done between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., unless it is done by hand.

Landscape irrigation is limited to three days per week and customers need to make requests in restaurants if they wish to be served water. Same goes for hotels if they wish for daily linen service, officials said.

Activities that are prohibited at all times, regardless of the emergency level, include landscaping that causes runoff and power washing without a water recycler.

Furthermore, irrigation breaks or leaks that cause runoff need to be stopped or repaired within 72 hours. And, construction site dust control needs to be done with recycled water, when possible.

Measures are in place due to statewide drought levels. If conditions worsen, a Level 3 emergency could be announced, which would prohibit people from filling their swimming pools or washing their cars at home.

** Editor’s note: Windsor city leaders said there will be no July 28 special meeting. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Windsor Town Council would again try to reach a decision about how to fill its current vacancy.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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