NEW HAVEN, CT – The morning after his members launched a coup in his absence, Arpad Tolnay told the Independent Thursday that he plans to step down as head of New Haven’s embroiled police union—on his own schedule.
Meanwhile, New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said he’s “considering” allegations of misuse of union money.
Members of Police Union Local 530 voted at a crowded meeting Wednesday night to call on Tolnay (pictured at a previous press event) to resign. And they decided to start drawing up charges for his removal if he doesn’t.
Chief among the charges is that he allegedly used a union card for his personal use, running up some $5,000 in debt; Tolnay called that a “stupid” false accusation.
The union’s executive board has spoken to Dearington’s office about that allegation.
“It was referred to us and we’re considering it,” Dearington said Thursday.
Tolnay didn’t attend Wednesday night’s meeting calling for his ouster. He was home sick, he said.
He said Thursday morning he hadn’t known about the vote until receiving a call from the Independent.
The vote’s moot, Tolnay said—because he plans to step down soon anyway. He said he no longer felt like contending with what he characterized as abusive rumor-mongering and accusations against him leveled by people bitter that he won last May’s election to succeed Lou Cavaliere, who ran the police union for 30 years. His executive board has undermined him rather than working with him, he said. “60 percent of them are non-entities.”
“I’m pissed off,” Tolnay said. “You know what’s funny? I already told this board I was going to step down as soon as I get everything in order.
“I’m not going to step down immediately. I’m not going to step down because I’m being asked to step down. I have personally decided that this position is not worth it to me. It’s detrimental to me and my personal life.”
Tolnay recently got married. He has a new baby on the way.
“You’re threatening me with a good time? Less stress? Going back to patrol, which I love? Not being on the phone all day and when I get home? Not dealing with all these rumors? That’s a threat? Going back to a non-stressful position, more lucrative work, and going home to time that’s mine? I don’t think that’s considered losing,” he said.
Once he steps down, the six remaining members of the union’s executive board will vote for Tolnay’s replacement. The next full membership vote for a president would take place next spring.
One possibility is that a union dynasty will continue, with the son of the union’s previous longtime leader, Lou Cavaliere, taking over.
Meanwhile, as the union descends into infighting, it is getting nowhere on obtaining a new contract. Its contract expired last June 30. No negotiations are currently scheduled with the city on the new one.
Wednesday night’s showdown in absentia was the second crisis of Tolnay’s presidency.
The first came in April when members found out he had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with city officials that in fact benefited many long-time cops. The city promised that veteran cops’ pensions would be protected in any new contract, even as it seeks cuts in the plan for everyone else. In return the city got language clarifying that a new cop’s probationary period extends through the cop’s time at the training academy; that in effect gives the chief twice as much time to evaluate and possibly terminate new cops who aren’t cutting it.
Opponents charged that Tolnay gave away important union rights for newcomers. Others argued that the change just clarified any existing arrangement (which had been confusing because of seemingly contradictory language in various agreements).
But what resonated more with the union rank-and-file was the accusation that Tolnay had struck a deal with telling anyone. He never informed the executive board about the MOU before leaving town for a honeymoon. Calls for his removal began to emerge. Read all about that here.
Tolnay faced his accusers at a rowdy union meeting in April and explained his position. He apologized for not having informed people about the MOU. He also defended it and refused to step down. Some veteran cops pressed their accusations against him, but he won over most of the group.
But the newest accusations revived the talk of a coup. Executive board members accused him of using a union credit card for his personal use, ringing up about $5,000 in personal expenses.
Tolnay said he was borrowing a card in the name of the former union president, Louis Cavaliere. He said from the start he had worked out an arrangement with the union treasurer, Dino Rasile. He said he was providing receipts from the start and paying back the money.
“I really can’t comment on that because there may be an investigation,” Rasile said when asked for comment Thursday morning.
“For 30 years that credit card was part of the union. It was never for personal expenses,” claimed Lou Cavaliere’s son, Lou Cavaliere Jr., a member of the current union executive board.
Cavaliere Jr. is one two people considered most likely to succeed Tolnay. The other is Sgt. Richard Miller.
Miller could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
Cavaliere Jr. (pictured, in cap, with his father at last May’s union elections) said Thursday he’d like the job.
“I didn’t want it to be like this. But I would like to lead us out of this mess,” he said.
One patrol officer who had been sympathetic to Tolnay during the MOU controversy said he felt Wednesday night that it had come time for Tolnay to step down.
““It’s just one of those things when it’s time and too many things aren’t looking right,” the officer said. “It’s only going to get worse if he stays there. It’s all about trust nowadays. If you don’t have that, no one is going to believe in you. What we should be concentrating on is everyone’s future.”
Cavaliere claimed loyalty to Tolnay.
“He’s a great guy. I was the there defending him when he signed the MOU and didn’t tell anyone. We got through. But now this. It’s hard to keep defending him. Everyone loves him. … But we had no other choice” but to proceed with Wednesday’s vote, Cavaliere said. “If you want to clear your name, come to talk to us instead of hiding.”
Cavaliere was asked about the prospect of ascending to a job his father held and defined for three decades. (Click on the play arrow to watch his father reminisce about how he did the job.)
“I’m not as smooth as him,” he said of his father. “But I talk to him five times a day. He’s my consultant.”