St. Paul police’s longtime union president, Dave Titus, will be joining the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office as a legislative liaison following a career that earned him praise for his advocacy on behalf of officers and criticism for some public missteps.

The move casts next month’s election for the union’s president into unknown territory. The only candidates for the St. Paul Police Federation post are Titus and newcomer Sgt. Matt Koncar, who publicly challenged union leaders’ controversial attack last year on then-mayoral candidate Melvin Carter.

But according to an e-mail obtained by the Star Tribune, Titus sent an e-mail to officers late Friday announcing he was not stepping down from the office or election. Ramsey County Sheriff-elect Bob Fletcher announced Titus’ appointment Friday afternoon as part of the final additions to his leadership team.

In his e-mail, Titus called a special meeting for Dec. 20 to gauge whether officers wanted to reopen nominations to replace him as a candidate.

“I know that the timing of this process has created less than ideal circumstances for this union’s upcoming election,” Titus wrote. “How to proceed has been given much thought. ... I am still a nominee and I am not stepping down as your president at this time.”

Titus, who was nominated as a candidate in November, did not respond to questions about the e-mail, which was confirmed with multiple sources at the department.

“The fact that you’re even aware of the e-mail is tremendously disappointing,” said federation treasurer officer Mark Ross, who declined to elaborate on its implications for the election.

Some believe it could be a last-ditch effort by Titus to hold onto his approximately 18-year, unchallenged reign as federation president.

“People are stunned but not surprised,” said one officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity and called the tactic questionable.

One of the possible outcomes, multiple officers said, is that Titus continues to run for the presidency against Koncar. If Titus wins, he could step down afterward and hand off the post to the federation’s current vice president. Another option is for officers to vote to reopen the nomination and select a federation insider to challenge Koncar.

If Titus were to forfeit his candidacy and call off the special meeting, officers said, Koncar would run uncontested and presumably win the Jan. 8 election.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Oh yeah, sounds like old union politics,’ ” one officer said anonymously. “I think this was part of the playbook all along.”

Ross praised Titus as “the most passionate police labor leader in our state.”

“We are extremely fortunate that Dave did an outstanding job of developing the next generation of police labor leaders within our ranks, and we are very well positioned for continued success into the future,” Ross said.

Some officers believe that union bylaws don’t allow reopening nominations for candidates. The federation refused to provide a copy of its bylaws.

Koncar, 42, did not address the late developments, but issued a statement about his run for the office.

“Unions in America are changing, and our police union needs to better engage our members and our community,” Koncar said. “We need a more accessible union that responds to the demands of the busy lives of our police officers and their families.”

Koncar joined the department in 2006 and is not among the union insiders. He said he was motivated to run for the office when union leaders released an open letter last year questioning the theft of two guns taken from Carter’s home during a burglary and linking the incident to increased violence in the city.

“I saw an opportunity to better tell the story of what police officers really do every day, how we help crime victims and how positive relationships with the community make us all safer,” Koncar said of the incident.

Koncar wrote an opinion piece for the Star Tribune last year opposing the federation’s actions. Titus eventually apologized but said Carter’s campaign was wrong in characterizing the federation’s letter as a “racist attack.”

Multiple sources said and Carter’s office confirmed that the mayor and Titus haven’t met once since Carter took office in January, becoming St. Paul’s first black mayor.

Fletcher said he spoke to Carter on Wednesday about the impasse with Titus.

“I told him it was not healthy for the mayor and the union president to not have spoken for a year,” Fletcher said, adding that Titus’ move is a “win-win” for the city and county.

Several officers who spoke about the election and federation on the condition of not being named said that many officers feel shut out and intimidated by the federation’s leadership, and that the union is not transparent with its own members.

Participation is low among the department’s 628-sworn officers, they said, and challenging Titus and his leadership team can be a herculean task.

“It’s good that somebody’s stepping forward to challenge Dave and possibly bring new ideas to the table,” one officer said.

Titus issued a written statement Friday saying he was proud of the federation, and that it was a “very difficult” decision to leave St. Paul.

“It is time for another passionate, experienced and knowledgeable leader to serve our membership as president,” he said. “I look forward to my duties at the Sheriff’s Office.”

Titus joined St. Paul police in 1994 and has served as federation president since 2001, making a name for himself as a dogged advocate in labor relations and a defender of officers facing discipline.

Titus’ role in the Sheriff’s Office will involve engaging with local, state and federal “associations,” but Fletcher said he expected the bulk of the work to occur at the Legislature.

 

Correction: Previous versions of this story had a photo caption that misidentified St. Paul police Sgt. Matt Koncar.