2020 marks the first year that Windsor will be participating in district elections, and the first time they will be voting for an at-large mayor.
There are four candidates for this seat. In order to prevent an overly-long article, we have split the candidates into two sets, the first is the newcomers, that is, candidates who are not current council members, the second is the current council members. The current council members profiled here include Dominic Foppoli, 38, a local small business owner and current mayor of Windsor and Sam Salmon, 70, a retired attorney, former mayor and long-time council member.
The Times is offering this Q&A to hope local residents gain insight into the candidates and their beliefs and plans. All candidates were provided the same questions to answer in their own words and the same time frame in which to answer them. Answers have been edited for grammar and style.
A similar, separate article will be produced for the mayoral candidates who are not currently serving on the council, Rosa Reynoza and Tanya Potter and one for the two candidates running for the District 3 town council seat.
What do you see as the top two issues facing the town at this time?
DF: One, emergency preparedness/public safety and two, managing growth to keep Windsor the wonderful, family-oriented town it is today will remain my top priorities going forward. Having helped to lead our town through some of the most harrowing days in our history, during four disasters and a pandemic, has given me an even better perspective on the truly incredible community we have to protect in Windsor. In addition to continuing to build our preparedness mechanisms, protecting the town means maintaining strong fiscal policies to ensure financial security in hard times. I am proud that my fiscal expertise has helped preserve the fact that our town has the lowest taxes and highest reserves, without sacrificing having the best roads and lowest crime rates, in Sonoma County.
SS: My top issues are leadership and our budget. Why these? What and how your council communicates with you will provide the direction in achieving goals that we all or at least a majority of us desire. I’ve heard we all like our town, love our town, because it is in a beautiful spot and has the feel of a small community. Sometimes we refer to our small town character. How one governs a town can be a very thoughtful process or it can be simply reactive. In the last three years, changes have occurred that we never dreamed of or asked for. We must give a lot more thought to how we can change and adapt. It will take more than words; more than just the town’s actions. It will take sincere understand of what we are going to do, what we end up doing and why we did it. Addressing climate change has to be the lens through which we look at each and all of our decisions because if we don’t, we ignore the obvious, that our Earth is changing and not for the good.
The budget is the tool we use to provide for the basic services such as police, water, sewer as well as support for recreation programs, community planning, economic development, outreach and all town efforts to support our community. Your council has to engage you, bring you into the decision-making process and spend our town money in a very thoughtful and conservative manner. While many would say it is the time to borrow money as interest rates are low, for the town of Windsor I don’t think I agree.
How would you see solving each of those issues? Give concrete examples.
DF: I have a keen understanding of how hard it has been for small businesses to stay afloat on the Town Green for many years. The Town Green also represents the heart of our family-friendly town for many residents. With both of these things in mind, I have helped lead efforts to encourage a boutique hotel and other restaurant retail, and housing opportunities on the Town Green. Along with my colleagues on council and other local experts, we have carefully crafted a plan for the Town Green that fully funds a new library and civic center for families without raising taxes. While this is the current plan, since taking office four years ago, my philosophy has stayed the same — I will only approve projects that will be a net benefit to the current residents of Windsor.
We are already doing so many things that have made us more prepared than we have ever been to protect the people of Windsor from disaster. We are actively safeguarding the town with defensible space. We continue to support our amazing first responders in Windsor and are forever grateful for their skill, dedication, and sacrifice. After the Tubbs Fire, for which the cities of Sonoma County were largely unprepared, we created new emergency response plans that are continuously updated and have served us very well during the Kincade and Walbridge fires.
SS: I am opposing the removal of the town’s Civic Center in the heart of our community and replacing it with a luxury hotel complex that will solely meet the needs of the wealthy. I apologize if my statement is insulting to anyone, I’m just stating the truth. I have provided many a thoughtful dissent to recent council decisions and direction. I live with my council votes and my record of service, for better or worse.
What strengths would you bring to the role of mayor?
DF: The experience that I have built growing from a planning commissioner to a councilmember to a vice mayor and mayor puts me in the best position to continue to lead as mayor. The relationships I have built on the local and state level make us safer and more informed. I was incredibly proud to have been chosen by my peers throughout the county as the head of the Sonoma County Association of Mayors and have been convening weekly meetings with all nine cities, the county and state and federal representatives since the beginning of the pandemic. Just this week, the town received a check for $700,000 to support Windsor infrastructure that I helped negotiate from the county. All five of the Board of Supervisors for Sonoma County have endorsed me.
I am someone who is measured and level-headed under pressure, and the work I did during the Tubbs, Kincade and Walbridge fires, as well as what I have done during the pandemic, makes me the best leader to keep our town safe and strong. I have a bachelor’s degree in Government and an MBA in Wine Business, and I bring my fiscal expertise to every decision I make on council. All of those decisions are made in a way that guarantees the long-term fiscal stability of our town.
SS: In terms of a leadership style, I have been critical of our closed-session policy where it appears any issue meets what is allowed to be discussed outside the public view, seems to be automatically so. No, many real property discussions, many potential lawsuit issues, could and should be discussed and disclosed to you the public in order that you have the opportunity of participating in your town’s governance. I have been even more vocally opposed to ad-hoc and subcommittees of the council for the very fact that they defer a full public and council dialog to a point that in most cases a decision has been formulated needing only council’s stamp of approval. I greatly prefer decisions be made in the openness of a public meeting with questions asked and the community given time to reflect and provide direction.
My strengths are both listening and hearing all sides of an issue. I have a certain experience with our town, 26 years in office, but more importantly, I have worked with every town manager and department head in Windsor’s history, learned a bit from each, more from some than others.
Where will you need to grow or learn as the mayor if elected?
DF: In my years serving on council, I have gotten a good handle on how the governance of our town works. With that said, there is always room for growth, and I will continue to be open to new ideas and have a never-ending thirst for finding new ways to better serve Windsor. I have deep appreciation for my colleagues and fellow citizens who have helped me grow along the way.
SS: My weakness? I’m not all in with social media. You won’t find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, but I will answer your emails and phone calls, always have.
What’s the most important thing the town is doing that needs more support, from both the citizenry and the council?
DF: Windsor has per capita the lowest crime rate, best roads, some of the lowest instances of homelessness and the strongest local economy with the healthiest budget and reserves of any city in the county, so there are many programs in Windsor that I would continue to strongly support.
Examples of how the town goes above and beyond other cities are the Parks and Recreation Department programming and, during non-pandemic times, our amazing events on the Town Green. Another example is our emphasis on local, quality economic development that has brought us recent additions such as Oliver’s and Russian River Brewing Company. We can always do more, and I am excited to provide leadership toward building a new civic center, library, splash pad, pool and other benefits while still maintaining our financial stability.
SS: I truly believe we as a people, a community and a town, must reduce our carbon footprint on our only Earth. The sacrifices both big and small need to be empowering, after all, this is your land, this is my land but even more, this is our Earth, to be shared and worshipped.
Our town is constantly in the process of planning our future. The Civic Center plan needs to be thoroughly vetted, by that I mean Windsor residents need to have the opportunity of deciding whether to push on with the plan or pull back. This project is like a train that has left the station. Our priority should be the long-awaited downtown hotel in its last stage of approval on the corner of McClelland and Market Streets. Our planning process needs to be focused, transparent and thoughtful. The town must stay focused on its priorities and stop with the distractions of those projects that have been on the books too long and are set to fail.
Describe your process for making a decision on a complex issue.
DF: Listening to voices from every side of an issue is the most important thing. I am proud that I have a very good relationship with every one of my colleagues even when we disagree. I’ve always had an open-door policy to meet with any and all constituents that ask. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve hosted countless residents for a glass of wine, beer, coffee or the occasional Fruity Moto smoothie to share ideas and respond to questions, and I will continue to do so in the future. It’s through these meetings, as well as meetings with town staff and other local leaders that I arrive at well-rounded and well-informed decisions that I believe are best for the residents of Windsor.
SS: Complex decisions by council require an open and transparent process where you not only listen to those presenting and commenting but ask questions even if you believe you know the answers. Many times, the questions lead to information not readily available and provide a much better base from which to deliberate.
Describe the impacts you are seeing from COVID-19 and what you would do to mitigate them.
DF: COVID-19 is affecting our families in so many ways. It is affecting hard-working parents who now have to work while teaching their children at home. It is affecting people who have lost their jobs or are struggling to keep their businesses alive. It is disproportionately affecting our Latino households. I have spent my time in office providing information to citizens and communicating with the county around various orders and provisions that impact our citizens. I also worked with the Windsor Chamber of Commerce and town staff to get creative about how to support our family-owned businesses through our Meals with the Mayors video series, where Windsor resident, Guy Fieri and I highlighted every single locally-owned restaurant in Windsor to encourage people to safely patronize them.
SS: At this point in time, I believe we need to be strong and confident that our actions taken to protect each other from the virus will work. We need to recognize and follow the safety precautions required by our health officers and professionals knowing that in being cautious we will protect others which in turn will protect our community. The sacrifices we make are for the health and good of our country.
With fire season now part of the new normal, name a single action that you feel would have the most impact on mitigating the impacts of fire season on Windsor.
DF: I will continue to help improve our emergency response plans for natural disasters. I have been working with other municipalities to share best practices to help Windsor become more fully prepared for anything it might face in the future. I have spent years talking with elected officials from other cities and regions and taking tours of their operations centers. I will never stop searching for new ways for the town to be even more safe and prepared for anything.
SS: Fires in California is the new norm. It seems like it started years ago with the Lake County fires that destroyed parts of Middletown and has progressed with Tubbs, Paradise, Kincade and now with Glass and many others. Windsor, like all cities and communities, has to plan and adapt to climate change. More than ever before, we need to embrace sustainable development and development that is town-centered rather than sprawl. We can work with agriculture partners to provide the protection of open space and agricultural buffers. We can support the overwhelming task of reinventing our wild lands to the point that they again benefit us and our Earth rather than threaten and harm us.