New London school board moves to remove Catala from committee chairman seat, police called

New London — The Board of Education on Thursday recommended that Jason Catala be stripped of his policy committee chairmanship, a reaction to his recent arrest on credit card fraud charges.

Catala’s comments in reaction during Thursday’s school board meeting, deemed to be threatening by at least one board member, led to a call to police. Police took statements from board members and Catala after the meeting. Police documented the complaints but made no arrest.

Catala said Friday his comments were misconstrued. His exchange with fellow board members was captured by an audience member at Thursday’s meeting and reviewed by The Day.

“The problem is that I don’t know that you can actually remove me as chair without the president here,” Catala said. “I think you need to just understand that someone is innocent until proven guilty. And if you guys want to keep rubbing salt in my wounds keep doing it, because I’m going to come back at all of you. I’m going to work hard, because I care about the community, and I care about my daughter.”

The school board voted 4-1 to recommend that school board President Manuel “Manny” Rivera remove Catala as chairman of the policy committee. Rivera was not at the meeting but said Friday he planned to speak with Catala next week and make a decision.

Rivera said having been a champion of ethical and high moral standards for school district employees, Catala should grasp the fact that "there should be consequences."

"As board members we're role models to young people in some ways," Rivera said. This is not the kind of thing that can be ignored."

Catala voted against the move. Board member Susan Tierney abstained from the vote. Board members Regina Mosley, Mirna Martinez, Jefferey Hart and Rebecca Amanti voted in favor.

Catala is accused of using a niece's personal information to open 16 credit card accounts over a three-year period and accruing $8,000 in debt, according to the affidavit for his arrest.

“I just feel like, as board members we are held to a high standard. We’re elected officials,” Mosley said at the meeting.

“The tone that we have set forth is integrity and accountability," she said. "Given the current circumstances, this board member should not be in a position of power or in a position to alter policies that affect the district."

Hart, the vice-president of the board, said at the meeting: “Everyone deserves their day in court, and I certainly hope, Jason, you’re going to take the time to clear your name, separate from this.”

“I think we’re at a time when the district needs real clear ethical leadership, especially regarding the number of policies that are going to come up,” Hart said. “But I don’t think it would be appropriate to have you leading conversations about ethical decisions and policies with this hanging over your head.”

Amanti suggested that as a gesture of understanding that Catala voluntarily resign his chairmanship.

“This is a way to step up and assume responsibility and do what’s best for the Board of Education,” Amanti said.

The Democratic Town Committee this week voted to withdraw its endorsement of Catala and ask that he remove himself from the ballot.

Catala said he had no plans to withdraw from the election. On Friday, Catala said police involvement after Thursday’s meeting was uncalled for.

While Mosley said Catala’s statement about “coming back at all of you,” was disturbing and threatening, Catala said, “It was more of ‘I’m going to get them politically after I win the election.’”

“That’s their decision and obviously, I’m not happy with that, but at no time was there any threat made to anybody,” Catala said. “There was no intent to threaten anybody. I think people are taking things the wrong way. Under normal circumstances they wouldn’t have had any problem with my comments,” Catala said.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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