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