The City Council overturned two agreements signed between Mayor Daryl Finizio and Police Chief Margaret Ackley, voting on Tuesday to reject both a new employment contract with the chief and a settlement agreement to resolve her claims against the city.
Law Director Jeffrey Londregan said the agreements fell within the purview of City Council approval because they involve budget appropriations beyond what was approved for this fiscal year.
Londregan said that while Ackley's contract expired earlier this month police chiefs are protected under state labor law and can remain in the job until they resign, retire or are fired. As such, Ackley will remain chief, he said.
The council voted 4-3 against the settlement agreement and 5-2 against the contract.
Finizio and Ackley . In it, Finizio agreed to pay Ackley $25,000 to avoid “the cost, burden, and uncertainties of litigation.”
Ackley accused former City Councilor Michael Buscetto of a pattern of unethical behavior during his time on the City Council and in his role as chairman of the Public Safety Committee. Ackley said Buscetto’s behavior included defamatory and discriminatory remarks about her and violations of the City Charter by discussing matters with subordinate personnel in the , instead of with her. Ackley also accused the city of failing to address the issue.
A , who was to investigate the claims, determined that Ackley would be unlikely to prove her claims in court and that the court would also be unlikely to hold the city liable for the claims. Hodgson said Ackley declined to provide specific allegations in writing to former city managers, and that Buscetto’s remarks to police personnel could be interpreted as a result of “political rivalries and allegiances” rather than discrimination.
However, Hodgson also concluded that Ackley’s accusation had a “settlement value” of under $30,000 as a way of avoiding the costs of litigation and the possibility of winning her court case.
“I wanted to speak as strongly as I can against this settlement in light of the Hodgson report,” said Councilor Donald Macrino.
Councilor Adam Sprecace said he did not want a rejection of the settlement to interfere with the city’s relationship with Ackley, but said he would not support the appropriation.
“This sets a bad precedent, considering the information we received from Judge Hodgson,” he said.
Council President Michael Passero also disputed the method of the settlement. He said municipal employees with potential legal claims should go through other channels and could settle through the city’s insurance. He said he couldn’t justify agreeing to the settlement after Hodgson’s report determined that the city was not liable in Ackley’s claims.
“I’ve already seen three bills,” said Passero. “We’ve exceeded what our deductible would have been.”
Councilor Anthony Nolan said he was in favor of the settlement since it could be less than litigation costs. Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop said he preferred sending the settlement to the Finance Committee so it could determine that question and other issues.
Councilor John Maynard asked Londregan what the city’s deductible would be if Ackley sues and the matter settles through the city’s insurance. Londregan replied, “It would be at least $25,000.”
He said the deductible varies depending on the annual renewals. He said the deductible could be as high as $50,000 if Ackley’s claims relate to this fiscal year.
Passero, Macrino, and Sprecace were against the settlement, along with Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran. Hyslop, Maynard and Nolan were in favor of it.
In a statement, Finizio said he disagreed with the decision but recognized the council’s authority to deny the settlement funding.
"I negotiated a settlement on behalf of the city within the confines of the recommendations in Judge Hodgson's report,” said Finizio. “I believe this settlement would have saved City taxpayers by avoiding higher litigation costs.”
Ackley’s employment contract
Under a announced by Finizio on Jan. 4, the chief would earn an annual salary of $110,725. She would also be given a separate paycheck through June to pay wages equivalent to 1,196 hours of compensatory time accrued beyond her 40-hour workweek.
Sprecace said he considered the contract unnecessary, given the statutes applying to police chiefs. He also said the financial aspects of the contract had not been appropriated for this fiscal year, and that the lump sum payment for compensatory time is not a usual feature for current employees.
“It seems more of a retirement agreement than an employment agreement,” said Sprecace.
Passero said he opposed the contract because the financial considerations exceeded the appropriations of the approved budget.
“I respect the mayor’s authority to enter into other terms, and I don’t disagree with the idea of multi-year contracts,” said Passero.
Londregan said such contracts are not uncommon in Connecticut and are frequently used if a chief wishes to hold the position for a set period of time. He said salary considerations can also figure into such contracts.
Friess-McSparran, Macrino, Maynard, Passero, and Sprecace were against approving the contract. Hyslop and Nolan were in favor.
Buscetto settlement discussions
Londregan said the city has also been discussing a settlement related to Buscetto’s legal fees incurred after Ackley filed an against him after his refusal to recuse himself from executive sessions related to her accusations. Londregan said Buscetto’s attorney, Kelly Reardon, rejected the offer following a disagreement on a legal issue.
Maynard asked why the law director had not represented Buscetto in the complaint, since Buscetto was a city councilor at the time it was filed. Londregan said the matter was complicated by the fact that Ackley could have been represented by the law director as well.
“We had a situation where we essentially had two clients,” said Londregan.
Londregan said both Buscetto and Ackley opted to get their own attorneys as a result.