Throughout the day on Thursday, April 8, calls for the resignation of Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli increased in tone and tenor throughout the county and beyond. The calls for his ouster come on the heels of an extensive San Francisco Chronicle article alleging that he had sexually assaulted at least four women over a period of nearly two decades.
Thursday night, Sonoma County mayors collectively released a statement calling for Foppoli’s immediate resignation from the Windsor Town Council, as well as from all other elected and appointed positions and roles held within special districts and regional boards. The statement was signed by eight of the county’s nine mayors, with Foppoli being the exception.
“Sonoma County Mayors honors the incredible courage of the victims of sexual assault to share their stories publicly and acknowledge the individual leadership it took for them to come forward. Sonoma County Mayors treat the allegations seriously and stand firmly united as leaders in our community against any and all forms of sexual violence. As your local elected leaders, we are committed to ending sexual violence in Sonoma County and believe the actions by a fellow mayor should not be tolerated,” the statement reads in part.
Angry constituents on social media had been passing around the Zoom information for a scheduled meeting of the Sonoma County City Selection Committee, and Mayors' and Councilmembers' Association Board of Directors and General Membership meetings to take place on the evening of April 8, suggesting that people “Zoom bomb” the public comment section to call for Foppoli’s ouster. However, following the allegations, all meetings of the group were canceled until June 10.
Condemnation from other political figures came swiftly following the publication of the article, and by the afternoon Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa; State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg; and four of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors called for Foppoli to step down. Additionally, members of town and city councils and mayors throughout the county, including Santa Rosa mayor Chris Rogers, Rohnert Park Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, Sonoma Mayor Logan Harvey, Cloverdale Councilmember Melanie Bagby, Healdsburg Councilmember Ariel Kelley, Healdsburg Vice Mayor Osvaldo Jimenez and more all called for him to resign amid the allegations.
In the town itself, Councilmember Esther Lemus made a statement early condemning Foppoli and demanding his resignation.
“As a mother, a Deputy District Attorney and Windsor Town Councilmember, I find the recent San Francisco Chronicle story both distressing and horrifying. I am saddened for the victims and disgusted by the allegations against Dominic Foppoli. In order for our Town to continue to function properly, I request the resignation of Dominic Foppoli from his position as Mayor immediately. My heart goes out to all the courageous women who have come forward,” she said on her Facebook page.
One council member who did not yet make a public condemnation is Debora Fudge, who is currently out of the county undergoing hip replacement surgery. Before going under the knife this morning, she did release a brief statement.
“I am very sorry to be unavailable to anyone in Windsor today, but I am out of the county having major surgery this morning. I am troubled, confused and shocked/surprised by what I read this morning. I am taking the allegations seriously. I will get back to you when I can,” her statement read.
Then a statement from the town came out, exposing some of the challenges being faced now that the town is moving to district elections and the mayor is an elected, rather than appointed, position.
“The Town and Town Council are aware of the shocking and horrible allegations that have been made against Mayor Foppoli. The conduct described in the article published by the San Francisco Chronicle is not acceptable nor does it reflect the values or standards we hold ourselves to as a community,” the statement reads. “The Town has referred the allegations to the Windsor Police Department for further investigation and is in the process of evaluating its duties and options under the circumstances. We ask for the community’s trust that the allegations are being taken seriously and that appropriate actions will be taken in response.”
At least one of the alleged incidents occurred out of the state, at a hotel in Reno, Nevada, and it is unclear what role statutes of limitations may play in confining any potential criminal investigation.
The question of what comes next is likely on everyone’s mind. If Foppoli steps down, then the town must sort out how to keep the town’s business moving forward. Sam Salmon is currently serving as the vice mayor, but since the mayor is now a directly elected position, it is likely not legal for him to simply take over Foppoli’s post for the remaining 19 months.
If he doesn’t step down, the question becomes what other options for removing him are available. A recall is allowed under California law for all elected “officer(s) of a city, county, school district, community college district, or special district, or a judge of a trial or appeals court. County and city charter provisions providing for recall are not affected by state provisions,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In California, recall “may commence after 90 days in office. Recall may not commence if officer has six months or less left in term. No specific grounds are required. Time for gathering signatures is 40 to 160 days (depending upon the size of the jurisdiction). Signature requirement varies according to the number of registered voters in the jurisdiction: 30% if registration is less than 1,000; 25% if registration is between 1,000 and 9,999; 20% if registration is between 10,000 and 49,999; 15% if registration is between 50,000 and 99,999; 10% if registration is 100,000 and above.”
However, it would appear that the ability of him being removed by his fellow council members is tricky, as most rules and prescribed penalties in case law relate to ethics violations around finances, transparency, conflict of interest issues and Brown Act violations.
It is the complicated exploration of these legal options the town’s statement is doubtless referring to.
Whether he resigns or is removed, the question of how his seat will be filled is a legal question no doubt being researched heavily by town attorney Jose Sanchez. The town is already undertaking a special election to fill the seat he vacated as an at-large council member when he won the mayorship in 2020. It is likely a second special election would have to held down the road to fill his seat.
Constituent response has been swift and harsh as well, with people on social media calling for his ouster, and creating hashtags like #RemoveDominicFoppoli. Additionally, a Facebook group created last year calling for the community to recall Foppoli has seen increased activity.
There has also been condemnation for Fudge, with people questioning her response to a 2017 letter sent to her from an unnamed individual who claimed to have rented one of Foppoli’s houses for a long weekend and had experienced him behaving inappropriately.
The article, by Alexandria Bordas and Cynthia Dizikes, outlines both Foppoli's personal and political history and the instances of assault outlined by four different women, three of them on the record with their names — Rose Fumosa, Sophie Williams and Allison Britton.
All of the alleged victims were acquaintances of Foppoli’s, either through his winery and brewery businesses or his civic volunteer work. In each case outlined in the Chronicle story, both Foppoli and the victims were reported to have been drinking in a social setting, prior to the alleged assaults.
In a statement to The Chronicle, an attorney for Foppoli said the mayor “categorically denies having engaged in any of the abuses described.”
This story is ongoing and will be updated as new information come available.