The meeting stretched to midnight, and every format it was available on — Zoom, Grannicus and Facebook Live — was jam packed with participants. Over 100 people provided public comment and the message was stunningly unanimous — Mayor Dominic Foppoli has lost the trust of Windsor and community members say he needs to step down immediately.
How could Foppoli preside over a meeting calling for his resignation?
The April 14 Windsor Town Council meeting agenda had a single agenda item: consideration of demanding Foppoli resign. It had been unclear leading into the meeting if Foppoli or Councilmember Esther Lemus, who has accused Foppoli of drugging and sexually assaulting her on two separate occasions, would be able to attend the meeting due to conflict of interest rules.
Earlier in the day the official ruling was that neither of them had a conflict of interest under state law, and could both attend the meeting. Town attorney Jose Sanchez was unable to attend the meeting, but sent a partner in his law firm, Joan Cassman, to serve as acting town attorney in his place. When Foppoli showed up to run the meeting as per his normal mayoral duties — a move that stunned most watchers — it fell to Cassman to explain why there was no legal avenue to prevent it.
“Mayor Foppoli is your duly-elected, at-large mayor,” she said. “As such has the right and authority to preside over this meeting until he resigns or there is a recall or he is convicted of a felony. He continues to hold the office … by state law, by California Government Code, he is the mayor elected at large in the town and until his elected office is addressed by recall, resignation or felony conviction, he continues to be the mayor. That is the state law not a local law.”
Cassman also pointed out that conflict of interest rules are based around financial crimes and advantages, and are meant to prevent elected officials from benefitting financially from council decisions.
“I do not see any financial conflict of interest as codified in California State Government Code applicable here,” Cassman said.
Councilmember Sam Salmon stated that it “was requested numerous times to allow someone else to run the meeting,” but that Foppoli chose to run it anyway.
With Foppoli in attendance, it came as no surprise that Lemus was not, and she sent a message to the town and council through Town Manager Ken MacNab, who said he had received an email from Lemus who said she was not attending the meeting due to conflict of interest concerns.
“Given I am a victim of sexual assault from Mayor Foppoli and I am cooperating with law enforcement against him, I must recuse myself from any issue regarding him,” the statement said.
Foppoli kicked off the meeting by making a statement, where he continued to assert his innocence. He started by saying that while he understood people’s anger and said he supported the women coming forward, he stated he had done nothing wrong. He expressed disappointment at other local elected officials who renounced him, and apologized to his “family and close friends” for having to go through this experience.
“In the past few days I’ve had dozens of people reach out to me and I will tell you what I’ve told them, I have my head held high. I have done nothing criminally wrong, and I will be cleared,” he said. “I am not without faults, but I am not a criminal. Let’s let the attorney general decide if I did anything wrong. What I ask you is to reserve judgment and instead to judge me on this job as mayor. If you walk around Windsor and love where you live … on every metric Windsor is ranked highest in region, that is not an accident, so let me do my job and get back to work.”
What is the city doing and what can it do?
Town managers are usually pretty circumspect in their comments, as they work for the town council members, but MacNab held very little back with his own report and comments.
“First and foremost, I want to acknowledge what a difficult time this is for our community and town,” he said. “I understand the allegations are shocking and frankly appalling. The conduct described is unacceptable and clearly does not reflect our values as an organization or community. I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge the courage of the women who have come forward with stories, it’s an incredibly brave act, and we need to stand strongly with them throughout this process. I also have empathy to any victim of sexual harassment, and I can only imagine the emotions this situation may be causing you and I regret we are having to have this meeting at all.”
He then outlined a series of actions he and his staff have taken since news of the allegation broke on April 8, including discussions with council members and the Windsor police chief. He also investigated, with the town attorney, any possibilities regarding options to remove Foppoli from office, which is not legally possible outside of his resignation, recall by the voters or if he is convicted of a felony.
Additionally, MacNab said that he’s asked Foppoli not to come to city hall and, if there’s a circumstance where he needs to come to city hall, he’s been asked to first contact MacNab to make an appointment.
“Our legal team has performed legal research on options for removing him and … neither the town nor the council can remove him from office because he was elected by Windsor voters,” MacNab said. “The town recognizes this is not in the interest of many members of our community who are seeking his immediate resignation so the town can get on with the business of government, but beyond voluntary resignation the only option is recall or conviction of felony, and tonight and we will ask him to consider resigning.”
“I have read suggestions the town investigate the council, but I have no authority to discipline the council, I work for them. I have to rely on the law enforcement professionals, and I have 100% confidence they will do their job fairly, thoroughly and without bias,” he said.
What did the city do with past email correspondence?
One of the biggest questions about the history of town actions revolves around an email received in 2017 by then-mayor Fudge outlining poor behavior on Foppoli’s part in 2013, before he was elected to the council. The town released a statement on that email as well as another received in 2020 on Monday, but MacNab said he had additional information that he had received in just the last 24 hours. He started by saying a significant challenge in investigating the past actions was that very few of the primary town staff, including the town manager, town attorney, and police chief, among others, in place in 2017 were still present now.
“Then-mayor Fudge took the appropriate action of forwarding the email to the town manager and town attorney for review and guidance, also she also contacted the individual to let her know she appreciated her bringing her concerns forward and acknowledged how difficult it is to come forward with such accusations,” he said, adding the email was then forwarded to all council members, including Foppoli, who denied the allegations. “I have been told by individuals involved at the time, the town’s leadership team was very focused in actively discussing the accusations, as emails like that are not common and it was viewed as high priority situation and they worked to determine the best course of action.”
MacNab said he worked hard to talk to people who were present on staff at that time, and also to try to go through electronic records regarding the handling of the email.
According to MacNab after all of these conversations one particular memory emerged — that the person who wrote the email “wanted to remain anonymous and also she did not want charges filed or an investigation to take place. Her primary interest was to bring the character of Foppoli to the town’s attention and the council’s attention, in the interest of not having Foppoli be appointed mayor.”
MacNab said it was important to confirm this information as a reason why the email was not forwarded to police in 2017, in accordance with the author’s wishes. MacNab was able to get in contact with the author, and confirmed that “her intentions were that the email was not to be shared or her name not to be revealed and she had no interest in pursuing criminal charges … at that time and still does not want to, and would like her name to remain anonymous.”
When a new allegation was made in an email in 2020, MacNab said he turned both of the emails over to the Windsor police, and MacNab then turned the mic over to Police Chief Ruben Martinez to discuss law enforcement’s review of the emails.
Martinez affirmed the seriousness of the allegations, and stated that both the Windsor Police Department and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office stand fully with the victims, and that when victims decide to disclose their experiences, “we need to support them, when they get the courage to go to law enforcement we need to use every resource to support them and make them comfortable, but one thing we are not to do is force to them disclose.”
He then shared their investigation of the emails, as well as potential future investigations. “In regard to the 2017 email it was never shown to anyone in the WPD in 2017. We now know the victim did not want that. In 2020, it resurfaced and (MacNab) approached me and asked me to investigate along with a second email, that someone had heard the mayor was accused,” Martinez said. “In the 2017 email, the mayor’s actions were troubling but not describing a sexual assault, which is a misdemeanor, but either way it is outside the statute of limitations. The 2020 email appeared political in nature, as the person said she had heard he was accused of rape. If she had specifics or said she was a victim or knew a victim, but all we had was hearsay, no specifics of any crime to investigate. And we do not conduct investigations without a victim. After reviewing, it did not rise to the level of opening an investigation.”
Martinez said he had a sergeant in the sex crimes division at the sheriff’s department review both emails to get his opinion, he came to the same conclusion, “Currently, we are conducting an investigation on the allegations in the Chronicle article. We take every assault seriously and conduct a thorough investigation. I encourage all victims to come forward, and applaud them. It is not easy for them.”
MacNab and Martinez both reiterated that the town was unaware of the accusations outlined in the April 8 article, describing themselves as “being caught off guard.”
Fudge and Salmon made statements prior to making a motion and taking public comment.
Salmon expressed that he doesn’t have a great memory of the 2017 email, and asked for the community’s assistance in rebuilding trust. He also reiterated that no one “had knowledge of the allegations and then the story came out. I met with the reporter and she was very respectful and did not reveal what her story was going to be,” he said.
Fudge was emotional during her statement, calling it “a very sad day for Windsor.” Fudge is recovering from a total hip replacement, which took place the same day the allegations were released.
“We now have an 8.5x11 picture in full focus and in 2017 it was like we had photo, but we were looking at it through a straw and could only see a tiny circle. We did not have the full picture and there were no charges, no evidence and government is quite different than criminal law … and hindsight is always 20/20,” she said. “I’ve spent last few days at home trying to recover and reevaluate absolutely everything. How is it we all missed this … I feel like all of us were manipulated and betrayed … and the women will be that way the rest of their lives and for that we grieve. But as the town manager said, (we) can’t let one individual define who we are as a town.
“I’ll repeat what Sam said, we saw one side of the mayor — the actions in safety and all the work during fires was amazing, which doesn’t excuse where we are now. It’s like all that was erased,” she continued, looking at Foppoli, “if you love Windsor as much as you’ve said you always have, then you need to resign tonight so we can move on and start healing process.”
A united public comment period
Fudge then moved to demand Foppoli step down, and Salmon seconded and they opened the floor for public comment. Every single commenter wanted Foppoli gone, and several repeated the refrain “resign, resign, resign.”
“I am calling for Foppoli to resign, he is unfit for office or authority,” said Charlotte Borg. “It is absolutely disgusting, his attempts to cling to power. I do not believe you … do you love this town? No, apparently not. I hope one day you have to reckon with depth of emotions the victims are experiencing. Because you don’t get past them, you just learn to live with it. We don’t want you anymore. You are not the victim here … six different women have spoken out. You are a cruel, small man. You are a rapist.”
There were additional allegations against Foppoli from some of the commentators, though most were from things they had heard or had observed second-hand. However, one commenter had a more personal story to tell.
“I have been a Windsor resident for about 10 years and after college I met Mayor Foppoli at a party. I have experienced and seen some of this behavior first-hand,” said Carson Davis. “I’d like to say so sorry to all of the women for not speaking out and for not saying something sooner because I have personally seen him step into bathrooms behind girls … and I have spoken with reporters and have turned a statement over to the DA and I am just so sorry I didn’t say it sooner. I have had my butt grabbed by him and seen some of the things that people are referring to. And we just should have taken this more seriously and I’m just so sorry to these women it didn’t come out sooner.”
(Editor’s note: excerpts from the over 100 comments are available in a separate article here.)
While the majority of commenters were Windsor residents, there was a percentage that were from the larger county, including several from the Human Rights Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women and commented on issues they felt contributed to Foppoli’s being enabled over the years, including white supremacy, the “good old boys” nature of local politics, the dominance of the wine industry and a long history of misogyny. They also expressed distrust for Sheriff Mark Essick and felt he should recuse himself and his department from the investigation due to his friendly relationship with Foppoli.
“This is a human rights issue, there is substantial credible evidence the playboy mayor drugs and rapes women. Even if he never serves a day in jail, he has lost the public trust. Political office is not an entitlement to regain,” said Jerry Threet. “Foppoli must go one way or another … (but) there is a pattern of deficient sexual assault investigations by this sheriff. These deficiencies are in myriad accounts, they routinely disrespect and ignore victims … Essick is good friends with Foppoli. Investigations should be done by the state.”
A tense exchange
Around 9:30 p.m., the town manager broke in to announce that one of the platforms the meeting was being broadcast on, Grannicus, was down and a recess was called to try to repair. Ultimately, that wasn’t possible and the rest of the meeting was streamed to Facebook.
When they returned from the recess, Foppoli announced he would be passing over the gavel and signing off the meeting out of respect for the victims and the residents who weren’t comfortable with him chairing the meeting. However, MacNab immediately pointed out that if he left, the council would no longer have a quorum which would prevent them voting on the resignation demand motion.
Foppoli attempted to say they couldn’t vote before all the public comment was in, and tried to sign off, at which point a slightly surreal tableau unfurled as Fudge and Salmon chastised Foppoli for attempting to subvert their vote and called, loudly, for a roll call vote, while Foppoli tried to get the town attorney to intercede and stop the vote and remove him from the meeting.
“No, Dominic, you do not get to supersede our vote,” Fudge said. “I’ll stay after the vote and listen to all the public comment, but I’ll not let you take away our right to vote tonight.”
Cassman supported the vote happening, even without all of public comment being complete, because Foppoli had left the council with no other options by insisting on leaving.
Salmon and Fudge voted in favor of the demand, and Foppoli against and as he departed the meeting he said he wanted his statement from the beginning of the meeting to stand.
Salmon then had to close the official meeting, as there was no longer a quorum, but then opened a community meeting, which allowed public comment to continue until midnight.
When they reconvened the public meeting, Fudge spoke to the public. “I just want to express how upset, pissed and disgusted I am that he ducked out,” she said. “You had a right to be heard and he wouldn’t hear you. My blood pressure is through roof. I’m so sorry, I didn’t expect that. I think he’s a coward … you deserve to be heard and I don’t know what else to say. We will stay as long as you want to comment and we will hear you.”
Overall, the comments were universal in their condemnation of Foppoli and desire for him to resign. However, many of the commenters also called for Fudge’s resignation, with a large portion of those stating everyone on the council should resign and the town should start fresh.
By the end of the meeting everyone on the call was visibly exhausted, and Fudge finished her comments with furious tears and stated, I’ll just say this, “I hate Dominic Foppoli. I’m done.”
“I’ll just close with thanks to everyone, and it’s with a very heavy heart we go forward,” Salmon said. “I will examine my role and be responsive to you the community.”