Three weeks after pleading guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery, Albemarle County Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler faces mounting pressure to leave office.
Angry residents have emailed Dumler’s allies on the Board of Supervisors, chastising them for not calling on him to resign. Following his fall arrest, Dumler was moved out of committee posts related to police and the jail. A petition is circulating calling for his removal. He filed a report with county police Wednesday saying he’d received a death threat.
And another elected county official wants a supervisor to push for a compromise preserving the balance of power on the board in the event Dumler is forced out.
“It’s clear to me that the only reason many more people have not called for his resignation is that they are terrified of who might be appointed in his place,” Lonnie Murray, an independent elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, wrote in a Feb. 7 email to Republican Supervisor Duane E. Snow.
Snow declined to comment.
Once regarded as a rising Democratic star, Dumler’s political career was thrown into a tailspin in October when authorities arrested him on a forcible sodomy charge. Supervisors changed two of Dumler’s committee assignments in December — moving him off the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Authority and the Police Department Citizens Advisory Committee into spots on two other panels.
Dumler spent one night in jail last fall following his arrest and is scheduled to begin a 30-day term March 8. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge after two more women came forward claiming to have been victimized, but the reduced charges didn’t spare Dumler the political fallout.
Supervisors voted 5-0 last week to censure Dumler and 3-2 on a motion asking him to resign.
Supervisors Ann H. Mallek and Dennis S. Rooker voted against the latter measure. That prompted some residents to vent their outrage in angry emails to supervisors.
“I just need to express my disappointment with your decision not to join the motion to request that Chris Dumler resign,” wrote Lisa Jones of Crozet in a Feb. 8 email to Mallek. “As a woman and as a mother of daughters, frankly, I’m surprised that you would not be among the first to request Mr. Dumler’s resignation.”
Dumler declined to comment for this story.
The petition is based on a section of the state code that allows a judge to remove an elected official for negligence, misuse or incompetence in office or drug or hate crimes. That section does not cite sex crimes.
Dumler faced certain removal had he been convicted of a felony — such as forcible sodomy — or a crime resulting in his being listed on the state sex offender registry.
To get the question before a judge requires petitioners to gather 372 signatures from registered voters in Dumler’s Scottsville District. That would meet the legal requirement stipulating that the number of signatures be equivalent to 10 percent of the total votes cast in Dumler’s 2011 election victory.
If the circuit court decides the petition has merit, state code allows for a trial to be held with the Commonwealth’s Attorney serving as the prosecution against Dumler.
Legal experts have said judges are reluctant to remove elected officials and that the law does not appear to support that action in Dumler’s case. Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, has said he thinks the law ought to be reviewed to consider adding sex crimes to the list of those warranting removal, and the Scottsville Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to call on the General Assembly to study the code.
Sally Thomas, who represented Albemarle‘s Samuel Miller District for 16 years, said people calling for Dumler’s resignation should be aware that his vacancy could alter the board’s political balance.
Though both Dumler and his predecessor, Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr., were elected Democrats, Dorrier often sided with board Republicans to form a 4-2 majority. One of the most notable occasions was a late June 8, 2011, vote to end the board’s opposition to the Western Bypass.
“Things can be pretty drastically changed by just one vote on the Board of Supervisors,” Thomas said.
If Dumler left office, supervisors would pick a successor until a special election could be held.
Albemarle Democratic Committee Chairwoman Valerie L’Herrou said opinions vary widely in the Scottsville District about Dumler’s ability to continue serving.
“Most of the people I’ve spoken to feel very happy with the job he’s done,” L’Herrou said. “They feel like he’s listened to their priorities and he’s enabled many improvements in the area. … But others feel that because of what he was convicted for, he should resign.”
L’Herrou said Scottsville voters should decide whether Dumler should continue representing them. The petition drive provides a venue for his detractors.
Ray Caddell, who lives in the Rio District, said Dumler should resign.
“This is not a Scottsville issue,” Caddell said. “This guy represents me, makes decisions that affect me and my family and is in some way the face of me and my family and other families in Albemarle, and I don’t like that.”
Caddell said he would be willing to support any other Democrat in Dumler’s place if preserving the current political status quo meant Dumler would leave.
“As a very conservative Republican, I will take any Democrat you have in the whole county aside from this guy.”
Supervisor Ken Boyd remains steadfast in his opposition to Dumler staying on the board.
“I have had two different people contact me from the Scottsville District who just don’t want to deal with Chris,” Boyd said. “I don’t see how he can be an effective supervisor.”
In his email to Snow, Murray suggested that supervisors decide sooner rather than later how to appoint a successor to Dumler should he leave office. He said one idea could be to appoint a committee to recommend the next Scottsville supervisor until a special election is held.
“If Republicans can avoid using this as an opportunity for political gain and think of the good of the county, then maybe we can have candidates on the Board of Supervisors that can work with both sides to get things done,” Murray said.
“You’ve made some very good points that I agree with,” Snow responded. “Have you talked to other members of the Board of Supervisors?”
Supervisors are scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. Friday to receive the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget .
Staff writer Ted Strong contributed to this report.