Dumler’s out—what’s next?

Chris Dumler. Photo: John Robinson Chris Dumler. Photo: John Robinson

Eight months after his felony sexual assault arrest, four months after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery, and just five days after a judge denied a petition to force him out of office, Scottsville representative Chris Dumler announced his resignation from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, surprising some of his harshest critics and opening the door to a potential power shift in county politics.

Dumler, who served for 17 months, was absent at the start of last Wednesday’s regular Board meeting. An announcement offered by Supervisor Duane Snow explained why.

“‘I hereby resign the office of Supervisor, Scottsville District, for the County of Albemarle,’” Snow read aloud, his voice shaking with emotion. “‘Signed, Chris Dumler.’”

Dumler first reached out to Snow on Sunday, June 1 via e-mail. In the brief exchange, released to reporters last week, Dumler asks for a meeting “in the next 48 hours to discuss my potential resignation.”

They met in the County Office Building the following day, said Snow, and Dumler said he’d been considering resigning for some time, but didn’t want to appear to be backing down in the face of a petition he felt was legally groundless.

“And number two, he said, and he used this word twice, ‘Pride got the better of me, and I wanted to fight it,’” Snow said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker expressed support for Dumler’s decision to fight the effort to remove him.

“I  think it was important that he stayed through the time that his petition case was running, because that case was a case of first impression in Virginia,” Rooker said. “I think it was important that the decision be rendered not just for him but for public officials statewide, so that they had some guidance as to…what the circumstances are for which a public official can be removed for neglect of duty.”

Snow wasn’t as pleased that Dumler had chosen to stay as long as he did. “If I’d had my druthers, I’d rather have had him resign several weeks ago, way before it went to trial, before the signatures,” he said. “But that did not happen. So I was just very appreciative that he was willing to do it now.”

Steve Peters, the district chair of the Scottsville GOP and one of the loudest voices of protest over Dumler’s continued presence on the Board, shared the sentiment.

“It surprised, I think, everybody that the resignation came,” said Peters. “Up until this point, Chris has done what was best for Chris and not what was best for the victims, and not what was best for the county, and not what was best for the constituents. Why it has happened is only conjecture. But we are all happy to move on.”

For the Board, moving on means finding a temporary fill-in for Dumler. The county has 45 days to appoint a replacement, who will serve until a November special election can be held to select someone to serve out the rest of his term, which runs through 2015. The Board will accept applications through June 20, and candidates will offer their comments at a July 3 public meeting. The new appointee could take over as early as July 10, and according to Snow, supervisors have agreed not to consider anyone who plans to run in the special election.

It could be a crowded field. Republican Denny King, who ran unsuccessfully for the Board seat in 2007 against Dumler’s predecessor, Lindsey Dorrier, said he was considering answering friends’ requests to come forward as a candidate. He’s since moved out of the district, but said he and his wife still spend a lot of time at their property in Scottsville. “It’s really made me feel good to receive so many calls from people who supported me during my run,” King said.

And at least one candidate has already applied. Richard Randolph, 66, was appointed to the Albemarle County Planning Commission by Dumler in 2012. The Keswick resident, who owns his own home repair company and is married with two grown children and two grandchildren, said he wanted to represent the Scottsville district according to the agenda that got Dumler elected—he’s for limiting the growth area and preserving rural schools, and he’s against the Western Bypass.

“I don’t think there was ever an issue where we really differed,” said Randolph, and that’s important for the Scottsville voters who elected Dumler. He said he was asked by a number of people to consider running in the special election, “but I thought it was more important for me to immediately step in and provide confidence to voters…that they were going to have a strong voice that was sensitive and responsive to the issues on which Chris ran and on which most people voted for him in 2011.”

It’s no surprise that Democrats might need some reassuring. Dumler’s absence hands the conservative members of the Board a 3-2 majority, giving them a 45-day power window—maybe longer, depending on who is appointed and then elected to represent Scottsville.

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said the coming months could offer the seated Republicans—Snow, Ken Boyd, and Rodney Thomas, who is up for reelection this year—a number of opportunities to wield newfound strength, including on issues of land use and the selection of a new chair of the Board.

But voters would surely take notice if conservative Supervisors tried to take advantage of the situation to push their agendas, he said. “It would absolutely draw attention, and it would likely have political ramifications far beyond the issue.”

As for Dumler, he’s had little to say since his nameplate was removed from the dais in Lane Auditorium. Reached for comment last week, he said simply, “I enjoyed serving.”