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Calls For Mediation, Updates Amid Police Department Turmoil

New London councilors advocate Public Safety Committee meeting to address several issues

A number of city councilors have said they would like the council’s Public Safety Committee to begin hearing from members of the to get a better sense of several issues and complaints that have arisen in recent months.

The New London Police Union recently released a political update critical of Police Chief Margaret Ackley and Mayor Daryl Finizio. The city is facing two lawsuits, one from the union president and one from a former captain. And several officers have left the department.

Council President Michael Passero said little information regarding these issues has come before the City Council.

“It’s getting to the point where there are so many reports that the whole thing is dysfunctional, that the chief has lost control,” said Passero. “At some point the council is going to have to weigh in, and the only way to do that is to call a Public Safety Committee meeting.”

Union matters

In a recent update to the police union website, political director Chuck Flynn accused Finizio of “lack of support and contradictory actions” regarding the department. Flynn said Finizio has continued to support Ackley at the expense of the union.

“From a mayor who proudly recalls family members who were union workers and openly sought union labor endorsements for his candidacy, it is troubling he has failed to reach out with our union leaders to investigate the problems or start a dialogue on what's wrong and how to fix it,” said Flynn.

The union has cited Ackley’s strained relationship with Michael Buscetto III, a former city councilor who after , as part of the issue. Ackley prior to the election and said his actions had convinced her to retire at the beginning of this year. The details of her grievances later revealed that she felt Buscetto was in the department.

Finizio has publicized e-mails between himself and Ackley as well as community activist Kathleen Mitchell showing his support for Ackley during his campaign. In an e-mail to Mitchell on Aug. 10, Finizio declares, “I hope the chief will stay on and I think she will after the conversation I had with her.” On Oct. 5, Ackley wrote to Finizio suggesting caution in any meeting to discuss police matters since there were rumors that they were “socializing to plan Buscetto’s demise.” Ackley also warns Finzio in this e-mail, “Stay strong and don’t underestimate the good ol’ boy system in New London.”

Finizio said in a sworn affidavit included with the e-mails that he met with the chief to discuss police matters in January of 2011 and informally on two other occasions. He said he did not meet with her again until the election, when he asked her to stay on as police chief.

“At no time during the campaign did the chief and I directly, or indirectly, discuss conspiring to use government authority against then Councilman Buscetto,” said Finizio.

Todd Lynch, in a lawsuit filed against Ackley in her individual and municipal capacities as well as the city of New London, alleges that Ackley has retaliated against him in part for his support of Buscetto. The suit charges violations of First Amendment rights as well as libel and makes a claim for over $15,000.

Lynch says he has had numerous disagreements with Ackley, including a 2010 suggestion that the union look into a vote of no confidence against her, an open letter critical of her appearance before the City Council on the same evening as a , and his . He said Ackley has taken a number of retaliatory actions including removing compensation hours from his K-9 unit, suspending his K-9 for an incident it wasn’t involved in, requiring him to download his cruiser camera at the end of every shift, and affirmatively removing Lynch's responsibilities with regard to the K-9 unit via a number of restrictions.

Lynch also says Ackley suggested that Buscetto has an undue influence on the union, and so the actions were also “casually related to [Lynch]’s protected activities of association and speech.” The lawsuit includes several e-mails between Ackley and Mitchell, including one on July 28 in which Ackley says, “Citizens of NL have no idea the threats Mike has sent to me and the non stop attempts to try and hurt me. He will not have control of law enforcement as long as I’m chief, I will not turn my head and allow he and his ‘lynch’ squad to show favor for the chosen few at the expense of those he considers less than himself.”

Flynn said in his political update that he does not think Finizio has taken the union complaints against Ackley seriously. He said he feels that Finizio has shown support to Ackley, including an employment contract and settlement offer that were , and blamed the union for the strained relationship within the department.

“If the chief refuses to abide by the collective bargaining agreement, won't honor past practices or stipulated agreements, bargains in bad faith, is hostile to all grievances, retaliates against union members and upholds different standards of accountability than yes, there is institutional resistance to her,” said Flynn.

Finizio says he and Ackley have a professional relationship and do not meet socially, but that he considers the chief a capable administrator. He said he would hold Ackley to the same standards as the union, but also felt the department will need to abide by the operational policies.

“The policies are staying, and I hope that in time the entire department will come to understand that this is the new reality and we can move beyond this transition,” he said.

Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran said she does not have any firsthand knowledge about the relationship between Ackley and the union, but that it appears improvements need to be made.

“I know that for community policing to be effective the relationship between any chief of police and the officers on the street must be one of trust, respect and cooperation,” she said. “I do not see that we have the level of trust, respect and cooperation that is needed considering all that is going on in the city today.”

Councilor Adam Sprecace described the relationship as “strained.”

“I’m guessing that Chief Ackley feels that only a handful of union members represent the root of the issues and if they are removed from the police department, everything will be fixed,” he said. “I would caution against this belief because my impression is that the morale problem is more widespread than what the chief or administration believes.”

Retirement issue

Another lawsuit facing the city has to do with the . Finizio approved the agreements, but the funding required for them through the end of this fiscal year has been .

Dittman has sued Finizio, Ackley, Personnel Coordinator Bernadette Welch, and the city of New London for a demand in excess of $15,000. Dittman charges breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealings, negligent misrepresentation, liability of the city, fraud, civil conspiracy, and unjust enrichment.

The lawsuit states that the relationship between Ackley and Dittman was “acrimonious” and that Ackley “desired and intended to remove…Dittman from his employment.” Dittman says the city paid him $106,495.87 for accrued vacation, holiday, and compensatory time in January but that he was informed in February that the city would not be able to fulfill the rest of the agreement.

Dittman said he was relying on assurances from Ackley, Finizio, and Welch that the city would meet its obligations. He said Finizio also made a false representation by neglecting to mention that the City Council would have the final say over funding for the agreements.

“The defendant city refuses to make payments under said agreement as it claims that the defendant Finizio did not have the sole right and exclusive authority to execute the agreement on behalf of the defendant city," the lawsuit states.

In its most recent votes, funding for the agreements failed in a 3-3 tie. Councilor Anthony Nolan, the potential tiebreaker, has been recusing himself from the votes since he is a police officer.

“It is unfortunate that so many lawsuits have been filed, and I am extremely disappointed that contracts, signed in good faith with employees who have served the department for 25 plus years, have not been honored,” said Ackley. “These employees deserve the right to retire with pride and dignity, and it is disgraceful that they have not been able to.”

Sprecace said he does not believe the contract is enforceable since it was made without City Council approval. He said it is “troubling” that the settlements have been before the council twice after their rejection, but that one resolution could be delaying the payments until the 2013 fiscal year when they can be budgeted for.

Passero also said he felt the agreements should have been brought before the City Council as a first step.

“The damage has been done. Our ability to fix it is pretty limited,” he said. “The mayor did not have the legal authority to enter into those settlements without the council’s approval.”

However, Passero and some other councilors have expressed the opinion that approving the funds for the settlements would be less costly than fighting the matter in court.

“It seems that honoring the agreements may have been the least expensive way to proceed,” said Councilor Donald Macrino.

Finizio said he did not find it out of the ordinary that the City Council would review the issue on different occasions.

“Legislatures can always go back and revisit an issue…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that," he said. "I just think it shows the City Council has been diligent in attempting to resolve this issue."

Public safety

There are currently 11 vacancies in the police department: six patrol officers, two captains, and one dispatcher, a crimes and computer-aided dispatch analyst, and the deputy chief. Since Finizio took office, one officer has been and one has been .

Flynn said the departures and intradepartmental difficulties are not affecting public safety but that the issues need to be resolved.

“Despite these difficulties our members continue to suit up and show up 24/7 everyday to ready to help, serve and protect the public while we also endure this sideshow of distractions,” he said. “Unless and until serious intervention into the problems associated with this administration are undertaken these problems will only worsen since the issues before us are not able to fix themselves.”

Sprecace said he trusts that staffing levels per shift will remain steady.

“This may require more overtime than what was originally expected, but I’m hopeful the situation is temporary in the short term,” he said.

Macrino said the issue of public safety as it pertains to the operations of the department is one he would like to hear more about.

“I really have to rely on the professionals. I have to rely on the chief of police to make that determination,” he said. “I honestly have not heard her opinion on that.”

Passero said he had “complete faith” in the department’s officers. However, he also said he would like an update on operations given the departure of Dittman, Lacey, and Segar.

“We’ve certainly decimated the administration over there are at the police department, so we wonder how it’s operating,” he said.

Friess-McSparran said she feels the matters need to be addressed to improve the department’s operations.

“These ongoing issues have a tendency to distract the fine men and women of our police department who need to be completely focused in keeping the community safe,” she said. “The sooner that all of this is resolved the better off New London will be.”

Finizio said he has supported police policies that aim to focus on community policing and building trust. He said these .

“The reality is I approach these decisions solely from the standpoint not of what is best for Chief Ackley or the union but what is best for the city of New London,” he said.

Ackley said she accepts responsibility for the department’s actions, and that safeguards have been put in place to reduce human error when mistakes are found. She said she believes officers are meeting modern standards and that the city is safer as a result.

“It is my hope that with a focus on community policing, and with the work of the entire department that made possible our , that the city might recognize the hard work, the excellent policing, and the positive relationships being built between officers and citizens,” she said. “Sadly the present hostility prevents the community from recognizing the outstanding work of the many.”

City Council relationship

Passero said the City Council's role in the operations of the police department is limited and relates mostly to funding levels. He said meetings include a section for reports from the mayor’s office, but that it has not often been used.

“It would be nice if [Finizio] showed up for City Council meetings, or at least if he addressed some of these issues that are coming up,” said Passero.

Friess-McSparran agreed that the Public Safety Committee would be a good forum to address the issues.

"The relation between the city administration and every department can always be improved upon. We always strive to improve the operation of the city,” she said.

Sprecace said improvements are needed in the relationship between the police department and city administration, and that a plan should be developed to do so. However, he said this action would be largely out of the hands of the City Council.

“Any improvements regarding the operation of the police department rest solely with the police chief and the city administration,” said Sprecace.

Finizio said he has been meeting with Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, on a regular basis to discuss matters in the police department. Finizio said he would discuss the police matters with councilors if they request to do so.

Finizio also said he considers that the department is in a state of transition and that the changes that have occurred so far have been necessary.

“If you’re going to address problems that you have in any government, people get weary,” he said. “They don’t like negativity, they don’t like conflict, and change is never easy in any government. But if you’re going to make it better, you have to do it.”

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Emily Kendall March 27, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Finizio said he did not find it out of the ordinary that the City Council would review the issue on different occasions. Sure putting the cart before the horse is the plan that Finizio prefers. Not the best approach when the taxpayers money is a prime concern and deficits loom. What about right and wrong, does that even register in the mayor's world? A little forethought goes a long way. The mayor needs to think before he speaks. "Finizio said he has been meeting with Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, on a regular basis to discuss matters in the police department. Finizio said he would discuss the police matters with councilors if they request to do so" Of course he meets with Hyslop often. He has to direct Wade's actions and comments. When will this public safety chairman have hearings or a meeting? When he was the Public Works chair he never held meetings. Just keep in mind, no one that is in the Mayor's inner circle makes a move or speaks without the prior consent of the mayor. The chief of police created most of this mess and the mayor has allowed it to get worse. This mayor appears from his actions to be anti union, anti taxpayer.
Matthew Macunus Jr. March 27, 2012 at 11:55 AM
As far as Public Safety Committee meetings go I have a few questions: How often are they supposed to occur? How many meetings has the Public Safety Committee Chairman held so far? How does this number of Public Safety Committee meetings compare with previous Public Safety Committees and previous Chairs? With the current turmoil in the New London Police Department should the Public Safety Committee Chairman be holding more or less meetings? What is the content of the alleged private meetings between the Public Safety Committee Chairman and the Mayor? How do these private meetings work into the mayor's platform of transparency? Who are the other Public Safety Committee members? Can the other Public Safety Committee members call a meeting if the Chairman of the committee is not having meetings? Do these private meetings eliminate the need for Public Safety Committee meetings with the public and the other committee members?
Alan Green, Jr. March 27, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Emily - If you choose to insult our elected officials, you might want to have a bit more substance than, "he has to direct Wade'. No one speaks without the mayor's approval? I'd like to see you stand in front of Rev. Hyslop and tell him he's some one's mouthpiece. I'd suggest everyone read Jim Johnson's letter to the editor in the Day this morning. That seems to sum it all up as far as I'm concerned. The chief has been attacked and her authority undermined by people who appear to be sexist ('prom queen'). She's standing her ground. The Mayor is supporting her. And so do a lot of us.
RGray March 27, 2012 at 01:39 PM
As more and more come out of this situation, I see one very obvious piece of hypocrisy. Ackley didn't want Buscetto interfering with the department as a strong mayor. Yet, that's exactly what Finizio is doing. Yes, it seems as though HE is the one running things over there. Furthermore, @Alan, should you review Ackley career in the department, you'll see that SHE is the one who has used her gender to get whatever she wants. I recall many times in her career that she threatened discrimination and lawsuits just to get what she wants. I wonder if that's how she became chief in the first place, considering she had little to no experience managing a handful of people, much less dozens of officers. Her lack of management has come to the forefront since she got promoted. It is sad that there are three administration positions open in the police department at the same time. There is no leadership that the rank and file can rely on right now. Sad, sad times.
Sue P. March 27, 2012 at 02:02 PM
We need the FBI to investigate. These officers need to be able to express their opinions with no fear of retaliation from the Mayor or the Chief. Ackley has the support of the Mayor but the officers that we do have left have no support. If they ask the union for help then they are against Ackley and the Mayor. It's a bad situation that the Mayor and Chief have put us in and the officers and their families are the ones suffering.
loves animals March 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM
If you read the Mayors affidavit it starts off spelling affidavit wrong, and does not swear to anything. What he says he did not discuss with her is vary narrow and unlikely topic in a very specific wording about Buscetto, he may have meant to swear to these things but he did not and as a lawyer he knows what he is doing, sometimes he can fool some of us not all of us. He does need to know how to spell affidavit as a lawyer so you wonder did he go to law school?
Carol D. Fox March 27, 2012 at 02:20 PM
@loves animals. If you look at the bottom of the Affidavit, there is an acknowledgment which has been signed by a Notary Pubic, please read it. You will see that he swore to the truth of the Affidavit.
Carol D. Fox March 27, 2012 at 02:26 PM
@loves animals. In reading it again, he swore that it was his free act and deed. My mistake. The format of the Affidavit is really poor and as a lawyer he should know the proper format. It should start off saying somehting like: I, Daryl Finizio, being duly sworn, depose and say: Wonder who put this together, Not a very good job.
Bud Wizer March 27, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Ah, this council-mayor performance art. It's like those marathon dance competitions of times gone by: two partners, not necessarily affectionate towards each other, obligated to be a team because they have been selected (elected) and each wants to earn what each views as his and her just rewards (increased popular suppot). Instead of impressing us with flowing synchronicity of willfully combined efforts to please, inspire and complement civically engaged citizens, they trip over themselves, blame it on each other, and create a spectacle of disarray underscored by unpreparedness for the anticipated problems of re-adjustments that charter-revision commanded. "The emporer's has no clothes" is a satircal expression of amusement at official negligence and folly. In New London's case at the moment, it appears the the council and the mayor are still digging through their closets trying to find something that will fit politically. Perhaps a masquerade will help. The current council-mayor dance routine could be prettied up, but the choreography so far is as nakedly self-serving as was the emporer naked when he declared the wonder of it all to others who saw, well, all of him, if not completely through him. Dancing With the Spars (as in boxing), your honors?
Eric B March 27, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I blame the last Chair of Public Safety for this sh*tshow. He spent too much time creating a "safe city commission" (that achieved NOTHING, despite being stacked with sycophants and cronies) and went to only two (2!!) Public safety meetings the entire time he chaired it. It will take years to clean up all the damage from his self-serving political machinations.
Don Sussler March 27, 2012 at 07:18 PM
That's a good one Bud. In addition, I'm sure those that have already filed suit will also be sitting their dance out. Doesn't make sense to dance again infront of the same cast of characters that voted on issues without having all of the facts. I think they made a good choice by pursuing a new D.J.
Matthew Macunus Jr. March 27, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Rumor is that the mayor is done with her and she will be gone soon.
Matthew Macunus Jr. March 27, 2012 at 07:25 PM
He put it together with wiggle room included, he is not a fool. He knows exactly what he did so as not to have it used against him later.
Matthew Macunus Jr. March 27, 2012 at 07:27 PM
That explains all the meetings that Mr. Wade has held as Public Safety Chair!
Get Real March 28, 2012 at 01:22 PM
It is amazing at the belief that the problem is policy related. The problems are simply a matter of people being stepped on and not listened to. First of all, community policing means that the officers are policing. Pulling as many people over as you can and not communicating with the public is not community policing, Anyone that has taken law enforcement 101 in college would know that. The unions and the chief need to sit down and get over the "I run the show" game. Neither one is responsible for "running the whole show". Coming to an agreement is what the point behing "Collective Bargaining" means. The chief completeley disregarding contracts and listening to those that know what they are talking about, as well being vindictive is not a solution. The union completely lamb-basting the Chief in the paper is not the way to solve the issue either. That loses credibility quick. The presence of the pointless NAACP also complicates mattters unncecessarily as well. All of these games need to be stopped to solve the issues. The mayor also needs to sit down and understand that the unions are here and that there is a law in Connecticut requiring that there is collective bargaining and that it is here for a reason. It is here to protect the employees from attitudes such as the on that is being portrayed right now. One that says, "This is the way it is, if they don't like it, leave."
Get Real March 28, 2012 at 01:28 PM
There are cetain rules, policies, and laws that have to be followed, on all sides. Not just on the sides of the employees and unions. A Public Safety Hearing I am sure would be welcomed. Only if it is going to be productive though. People argiung and throwing bantor around just to be heard is not good enough. A hearing would have to mean some kinf of change at the end for it to be effective.
Don Sussler March 28, 2012 at 01:38 PM
It was eye opening to read the political update on the union website in addition to the two retirees letters to the editor. All the screaming about the good ole boys, the union and institutional resistance seems to be a smoke screen for Mr. Mayor. It appears that the Top Cop has led him around by the nose and filled his head with ideas that may not be accurate. I'm wondering if he sat down with the brass prior to their sudden departure? Probably not. But I'm sure once under oath, they will sing like canaries.
David Irons March 28, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Is "Bud Wizer" a nom de plume for Bud Bray? The writing and lack of paragraphs looks suspiciously similar.
Emily Kendall March 28, 2012 at 03:22 PM
They are one in the same for sure.

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