Chief Margaret Ackley of the , in a statement to the City Council on Wednesday evening, said City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Buscetto III has been interfering with her authority at the department and engaging in unethical behavior.
“I have kept my mouth shut at Councilor Buscetto’s efforts to build his image at my expense,” she said.
Ackley said she felt Buscetto has violated the city’s ethics code through his actions with the police department, and that the stress led to her decision to retire. She said Buscetto told police officers that she is being “pushed out” following discussions by the council about her employment, and also accused him of making “defamatory statements.” As part of the meeting’s agenda, the council went into executive session to discuss a pending claim by Ackley against the city.
The council for two and a half hours regarding Ackley’s employment, but took no vote and made no comments after that meeting. The city’s law director, Thomas Londregan, said at the start of Wednesday's meeting that Ackley and City Manager Denise Rose had agreed to waive a confidentiality clause in an April 6 memorandum of understanding and settlement agreement and release between Ackley and the city.
According to a memo from Londregan, the agreement was kept secret to “maintain the stability of the police department during this election year, so that a smooth transition of police chiefs could occur at a later date.” New London will switch to a strong mayor form of government in the November election, and in July the Democratic Town Committee . He will face attorney Daryl Finizio in a .
Londregan also said Ackley had discussed retiring at the end of August, when she would have completed 25 years with the police department. He said the city directors and legal staff negotiated an agreement where Ackley would stay on until January and announce her retirement after the November election.
The settlement agreement includes a confidentiality clause forbidding Ackley from disclosing the agreement to anyone other than those involved in the negotiation or members of her immediate family. It also includes a section giving Ackley two periods of time in which to revoke the agreement: within 21 days after its acceptance or between Dec. 15 and Dec. 31, following the outcome of the election.
“The city manager had planned to inform Council of this action prior to the chief’s retirement, when she was certain the chief would not utilize her opt-out provision contained in the settlement agreement,” said Londregan in the memo. “This would allow the new mayor, whoever he or she may be, to decide how to fill the chief’s position. For these reasons, the Council was not informed of the [memorandum of understanding] and settlement agreement and release at the time of their drafting and signing by the city manager and chief.”
Londregan said he called the Aug. 10 executive session because he disagreed with this condition.
According to the memorandum of understanding, Ackley will not retire before Jan. 2. The agreement would also pay Ackley for 650.25 hours of vacation time, 576 hours of holiday time, and 24 hours of special holiday time, resulting in a pro rata payment of $64,616 as part of her salary through the end of 2011. Ackley would waive all holidays, special holidays, and vacation time earned between March 14 and Jan. 2 as well as any sick or compensation time earned above her 40-hour work week. In return, Ackley would be included on the city’s health plan until the age of 65 and the city would pay one half of the single premium rate.
According to a payment schedule included in the documents, the agreement is meant to bring significant savings to the city following Ackley’s retirement by eliminating payment for compensation time. Ackley is currently paid $107,500 per year, and has accumulated over 2,000 hours of compensation time. Reimbursement for this time would make up the bulk of Ackley’s separation package without the agreement, estimated to be $169,917.21 with August retirement and $199,508.14 with January retirement.
The total separation package without an agreement was put at $239,667.15 for August retirement and $276,011.46 for January retirement. Londregan said that when insurance premiums and one-time additional percentage of salary payment to the Municipal Employee Retirement Fund, the net savings to the city under the agreement would be $141,410. The schedule notes that the agreement would increase Ackley’s annual Municipal Employee Retirement Fund pension from $52,403 or $52,613 under August or January retirement, respectively, to $63,382 with the agreement. However, a note claims that compensation time could have been included as pensionable overtime in the non-agreement figures.
At the end of the meeting, the council voted 6-1, with Councilor John Russell opposed, to go into an executive session to discuss the pending litigation. At the end of a 45-minute executive session, the council voted to have an investigator determine the validity of Ackley’s claims against Buscetto. Londregan said such complaints could have gone through the city per the harassment ordinance.
“Obviously the chief has chosen a different path to bring this to light,” he said.
Ackley’s attorney, Shelley Graves, requested that Buscetto recuse himself from the discussion, since the litigation concerned him. Londregan said the decision of whether to recuse oneself is up to the individual. Buscetto declined to sit out the executive session and said he would welcome an investigation into Ackley’s complaints.
“It’s truly unfortunate that the chief feels this way and had to take the stage at the City Council level…Anyone can come up here and make accusations and some accusations, obviously are not true,” he said.
Martin Olsen, who is an in the upcoming election, said Ackley’s allegations “disappoint me to no end.” He said he was also concerned that an agreement was negotiated without the knowledge of the council, and complimented Ackley for her time as chief of the department.
“I’ve enjoying working with you,” he said. “I think you’ve done an outstanding job for the city of New London.”
Rob Pero, who was as the party’s mayoral candidate in July, said he was worried that the pending litigation may compromise the terms of the agreement and its potential savings.
“I’m sure a lot of people in the public will be concerned,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to make the agreement with Ackley public. In another unanimous vote, it agreed to send an item to “discuss and act upon the implications of the recently disclosed April 2011 agreement(s) between the administration and police chief” to the Administration Committee for further discussion.
Ackley has been with the New London Police Department since 1986, holding the rank of supernumerary police officer, patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration and graduated from the FBI National Academy. Ackley is the first woman to be the New London police chief, and was sworn in on June 26, 2009.
Ackley had not filed any civil complaint with the as of Wednesday morning. According to records there, she is currently joining the city in a suit against the Freedom of Information Commission and Pamela Walsh of Quaker Hill, appealing the commission’s finding that the police department erred when it told Walsh it would need to charge a fee to release additional audio records beyond a CD that was provided to her. Ackley is also named, along with the city and six police officers, in a suit filed by Eric Stiggle charging unreasonable force in an April 2010 arrest. That suit has been transferred to federal court.