New London councilors mum on meeting, agreement with police chief

New London - The City Council agreed Wednesday night that it would keep secret a contract between the city manager and the chief of police that may be related to the chief's employment.

No one would divulge details of the contract, but an agenda of the council's special meeting stated that the "Council will meet in Executive Session with Director of Law Thomas J. Londregan to receive a report from Thomas J. Londregan concerning the employment (not the performance or evaluation) of the Chief of Police."

At the end of a two-hour executive session at City Hall, none of the councilors would comment except to say they agreed there would be no comment.

"There is an agreement between the city manager and the chief of police that contains a confidentiality clause that the parties agreed to adhere to," Londregan said.

The mayor, City Council members, Police Chief Margaret Ackley and her attorney, Shelley Graves, attended the executive session.

When asked after the meeting if Ackley was still employed by the city, Councilor Adam Sprecace said, "Yes. I can't say more. We as a council agreed."

Public-employee contracts are normally public documents under the state's Freedom of Information law.

After the meeting, Mayor Martin T. Olsen said, "For the record, there were no motions made and no votes taken during the executive session."

Before the executive session began, the City Council's special meeting began with Londregan explaining that Ackley agreed that the council could discuss Londregan's report in private, provided that she and her attorney could be present. Under the FOI law, she could have asked that the session be public.

Graves and Ackley also asked that City Councilor Michael Buscetto III recuse himself from the meeting. He refused.

Councilor Robert Pero and Londregan discussed the executive session.

"I'd like to be as open as possible," Pero said. "A report based on what?"

Londregan said it was based on two emails he had sent to the councilors, last Friday and on Monday, both of which, he said, were protected by attorney-client privilege.

"We're talking about a potential agreement," Pero said before Londregan interrupted him.

"I don't know that there is an agreement," Londregan said. "I don't know how effective it is, how legal it is. It's not approved by you," he added, referring to the City Council.

Londregan continued, "The council decides what her pay is, and this could alter that. I think it should be approved by the council, not left to subordinates of the city."

Five councilors voted to enter the executive session, including Michael Passero, who was not present and who participated via Londregan's cell phone. The council agreed that Passero's word of honor that he was alone and that his own phone was not in speaker mode was enough to allow Passero's continued participation.

Republicans Pero and Sprecace voted against entering into executive session.

Pero, Buscetto and Olsen are all running for mayor.

Ackley was sworn in as chief on June 26, 2009. At the time she was a 23-year veteran of the department, 47 years old and successor to the retiring chief, Bruce Rinehart. She had been the department's first female detective and first female captain and only the fifth female police chief in the state.

Her tenure has been marked by rocky relations with the police union, whose members considered taking a vote of no confidence in the chief in September 2010. In the first six months she was in office, the union filed 27 grievances.

Just two months later, however, both the chief and the union president, Darrin O'Mara, told The Day they did not view the relationship as an adversarial one.

Before the council went into closed session Wednesday, Richard Gudis, who said he is the attorney for the police union but was not there to represent the union at the time, asked why no public comment was allowed.

Olsen said no public comment is required at a special meeting and invited Gudis to return for Monday's regular council meeting and make his comments at that time.

c.potter@theday.com

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