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Chiefs retain positions as mayor-elect goes forward

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: The Day

Published November 19. 2011 4:00AM   Updated November 19. 2011 11:40PM
Tim Cook/The Day
New London Mayor-elect Daryl Justin Finizio, left, announces that Police Chief Margaret Ackley, center, and Fire Chief Ronald Samul will remain on as heads of their departments at a press conference Friday in New London.

New London - Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who has come under criticism from some of the rank and file and had threatened to sue the city because she said a councilor was meddling in her department, will not retire by the end of the year, as planned.

Standing in the sunlight in front of fire department headquarters on Bank Street at noontime Friday, surrounded by police, fire and emergency vehicles, Mayor-elect Daryl Justin Finizio announced that both Ackley and Fire Chief Ronald Samul would remain in their respective positions after he is sworn in Dec. 5.

Finizio said it had been a pledge of his since January to keep both chiefs if elected, and that Ackley and Samul had agreed to stay on.

"We've engaged in extended dialogue since the election about the new roles that would be played in the new administration, and I'm very glad that both of them have agreed to stay on," Finizio said.

Earlier this year, Ackley reached an agreement with the city manager to retire by the end of the year, and said at a City Council meeting in August that Councilor Michael Buscetto III was "causing her distress" by meddling in police affairs and was affecting her ability to do her job. That agreement had an opt-out clause, which she is exercising.

In September, the police department was recognized by the State of Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council as a Tier One Accredited Agency. New London is one of only 30 law enforcement agencies statewide to have met the standards for accreditation.

The day after that news was announced, the city's police union published an "open letter" in a paid advertisement in The Day, lashing out at the chief for what the union described as "a managerial crisis."

"Ackley's actions and lack of executive level management skills and judgment have negatively affected police operations, employee morale and public safety for quite some time," it read.

Todd Lynch, who was elected police union president earlier this month, said Friday after the announcement that he is "trying to look forward rather than backwards and opening positive communication with the chief." He said the problems persist and will until the police administration and union can come to a compromise on several issues.

"It's been a strained relationship with the rank and file having extremely low morale," Lynch said. "We've had positive dialogue, we're looking to correct that situation and turn that into positive results."

Samul and Ackley made brief statements at Friday's press conference.

"The fire department is looking forward to continuing to provide a very high level of service and to be part of the new team that's going to be providing services to the city of New London," said Samul, who has led the department since 1985 and is a 41-year veteran of the department.

Ackley has been with the police department for 25 years and was appointed chief in 2009.

"I very much appreciate Mayor-elect Finizio's support, and I will serve with pride for the city of New London," Ackley said. "It's an exciting time with our strong mayor form of government, and it is time to start moving forward, and the police department intends to do exactly that. We're approaching this as a team approach with the new city government."

Ackley threatened a lawsuit against the city in August and submitted a list of her complaints against Buscetto.

That list has not been released to the public, and The Day has filed a Freedom of Information request for it.

Finizio on Friday said he would not release the list or comment on Ackley's claims because it is a pending legal issue. The City Council retained former Superior Court Judge Beverly Hodgson last month to investigate the claims.

On Tuesday, Ackley withdrew a complaint she had made to the city's Board of Ethics that Buscetto had violated the city's Code of Ethics when he refused to recuse himself from three City Council meetings in August in which Ackley's retirement contract was discussed.

Friday's press conference came a day after Finizio announced that Law Director Thomas Londregan would not retain his position with the city. Londregan, 67, has been city attorney for nearly two decades.

Finizio apologized Friday for saying "it's time for a new person or a younger person" to fill the job, although he also said the comment was taken out of context.

Finizio said his administration "does not discriminate at all on the basis of age, on the basis of any ethnicity, racial classification, gender classification or political partisanship."

"It was in a conversation with Attorney Londregan about the need for an individual who would be willing to have a long-term commitment to the position and Attorney Londregan himself mentioned his own age and that he had served for a great period of time and that it was a mutual discussion that perhaps someone willing to make a long-term commitment would be a younger person," Finizio said. "But, anyone, of any age, who applies, including someone older than Mr. Londregan himself, who is willing to make a long-term commitment to the administration would be fully considered.

"It does not accurately indicate my approach to hiring," he said. "This is entirely a merit-based process, and that is what it will remain, and I regret that statement, it was taken out of context, and I certainly apologize for it."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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