Dumler dilemma: County Dems in disarray over sexual battery conviction
On paper it must have looked good. Instead of being convicted of felony forcible sodomy, which would remove him from the Board of Supervisors, Chris Dumler would plead guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery so he could get on with serving the people of his Scottsville District.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Since Dumler, 27, took the January 31 plea, which includes 30 days in jail, the calls for his removal have not gone away. At the first supervisors meeting after his conviction, the board censured him unanimously and three board members passed a resolution calling for him to resign. Former supervisors scolded him for not disappearing in shame after his conviction, and one citizen started a petition to get him removed from office.
The Sexual Assault Resource Agency called upon him to resign immediately. "By his own admission, he has sexually abused at least one woman against her will," said the SARA statement. "This is a serious crime and a violation of the trust the community placed in him by electing him to office.
Dumler was supposed to speak at the Democratic breakfast February 16, an appearance that was cancelled by an alleged death threat, according to local media accounts, which also reported two protesters at the meeting were thrown out for their disruptive calls to lose Dumler.
Dumler did not return phone calls from the Hook.
How are Albemarle Democrats dealing with the continuing controversy about their once-rising star?
Requests for comment to four members of the county party steering committee yielded zero returned calls.
"You people aren't being very nice to our community or our party," says an unidentified woman who answered the phone at the residence of a Scottsville party official. "The more you stir it, the worse it looks. You should just leave it alone."
The Hook ran into Albemarle Dem chair Valerie L'Herrou and vice-chair Cynthia Neff at Albemarle General District Court February 19. Neff, who posted $50,000 bond for Dumler and defended him at the last BOS meeting, was in court to face her own charge of driving under the influence from October. She declined to comment about party matters after she was convicted and on her way out of the building.
L'Herrou, an attorney with the public defender's office, was on her way to court and said, "We're having meetings. We're not ignoring the situation. We're trying to figure it out."
Sources describe an organization in turmoil, with a lot of people, particularly women, having a problem with a man convicted of sexual battery remaining in office.
"I think it's unfortunate that both parties are looking at this as a political issue rather than criminal activity or fitness for office," says former Charlottesville mayor/City Councilor Dave Norris.
The Albemarle board is currently split 3-3 on many issues, and losing Dumler from the Dem-leaning camp would give Republicans Ken Boyd, Duane Snow, who made the motion that Dumler resign, and Rodney Thomas a 3-2 advantage,
"The Democrats are afraid to lose one seat," says Norris. "The Republicans smell blood. Neither party is coming out looking very good with this partisanship."
Norris notes the irony of some Democrats trying to minimize the sexual battery conviction, which Dumler said he took because he couldn't afford to fight the felony charge, and of Republicans defending women. "If the roles were reversed," says Norris, "[Democrats] would be calling for his head."
Norris, a city Democrat, declines to offer an opinion on whether Dumler should resign. "Chris has a decision to make," he says. "He's got to decide whether to stay in office and in the public turmoil versus standing down and reassessing."
He does make one prediction: "This isn't going to die. I can foresee the county Democratic leadership having a come-to-Jesus discussion with Chris."
"His remaining on the board is a distraction from the important business of the board," says Charlottesville School Board member/Dem Jennifer McKeever. "As a citizen, it's difficult to understand."
She mentions the joint city/county Democratic breakfast at which Dumler had been scheduled to speak that had to be changed. "It's a distraction," she says.
The Jefferson Area Tea Party joined the clamor for Dumler to resign February 18, citing his constituents who say they're afraid to contact Dumler, which leaves them without representation and puts an additional burden on the other supervisors.
"If constituents cannot or will not meet with Mr. Dumler on issues of county business because he has entered a guilty plea to a criminal sexual offense, then he cannot fulfill the obligations of his position to his constituents," says the Tea Party statement.
"As a public figure myself," says McKeever, "I want to be able to go to constituents. When I see a barrier, that's worrisome."
Keene resident Earl Smith is the man circulating the petition to remove Dumler from office, and he, too, has had friends say they don't want to be in the same room with Dumler, and say their wives don't want to be either.
Smith says he's bothered by the number of women who've made allegations against Dumler, and that the plea agreement precludes two other women from bringing charges. "I don't like the fact that I didn't get to hear it all," he says.
Dumler reportedly has said that he would sign Smith's petition, and that angers Smith. "That's just arrogance," he says. "He should publicly apologize for the embarrassment he's brought this community."
Smith, who says he's an independent, says he's had Democrats come and sign the petition. "They say they hate going against the party, but this is against women," he says.
And as an indicator of how roiled Scottsville is over the Dumler matter, Smith also maintains he's had five women come ask him why he's circulating the petition.
Unlike California, which has a history of recalling elected officials, petitioning to remove someone from office is relatively untested in Virginia, according to Smith. He must collect 372 signatures– 10 percent of those who voted in 2011 in the Scottsville district– and turn them in to the clerk of circuit court. A judge determines whether Dumler has misused his office, and while smoking pot could get an official booted from office, says Smith, the code does not mention misdemeanor sex crimes.
So far, he's collected around 200 signatures and estimates that friends circulating petitions may have another 20 to 60 signatures. He's determined to continue.
"It's a sex crime," declares Smith. "It's not a DUI."Read more on: Christopher Dumler