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Police chief's employment status with New London still not clear

By Karin Crompton

Publication: The Day

Published August 12. 2011 4:00AM   Updated August 12. 2011 9:44AM
Opinions among officials differ on whether Ackley has contract

New London - Police Chief Margaret Ackley does not have a contract with the city, New London's personnel coordinator said Thursday - an assertion that surprised the city's mayor, who said he was led to believe, during a lengthy private discussion with the city council Wednesday night, that she does.

The discussion surrounding the police chief's employment continued its cryptic track Thursday as city councilors maintained that they had discussed a contract between Ackley and the city manager but were unable to specify exactly what type of contract it is.

The city council met in executive session Wednesday night for more than two hours to discuss Ackley's employment, according to the special-meeting agenda. The chief is still employed by the city.

It remained unclear Thursday why the city's law director, Thomas Londregan, said Wednesday night that an agreement between the city manager and Ackley, reached in the spring, included a confidentiality clause. Londregan could not be reached to comment Thursday.

The employment contracts of any public employees are considered public information under the state's Freedom of Information law. The Day is filing an FOI request for the agreement between the chief and the city manager, Denise Rose.

Personnel Coordinator Bernadette Welch said there are no new contracts in place and that only two employees, the city manager and the deputy police chief, have contracts.

Welch's office does not handle Board of Education contracts, such as that with the superintendent of schools.

Mayor Martin Olsen said he understood something different based on Wednesday night's discussion. "We were led to believe last evening that there's a contract/agreement that was entered into between the city manager and the chief back in the spring," he said.

When asked what the contract is, exactly, Olsen said that "the unfortunate thing is that it's confidential; that's what (city attorney) Londregan outlined last evening."

When asked if she could confirm Olsen's contention, Rose said, "It is not a contract, no." She characterized the agreement with the chief as "an understanding" and deferred all further comment and clarification to Londregan.

City Councilor Michael Buscetto III said that he, too, understood there was a contract, albeit one that councilors cannot describe publicly.

"We just know that there is one, now," Buscetto said, adding later that, "Normally the council is apprised of matters like these in a more timely fashion."

Before the executive session, Ackley and her attorney, Shelley Graves, asked that Buscetto recuse himself; Buscetto declined. He said Thursday that he didn't know why Ackley and Graves made the request and that he didn't ask about it.

Neither Ackley nor Graves could be reached to comment Thursday.

Councilors Adam Sprecace and Rob Pero voted against going into executive session Wednesday. Pero said Thursday that he still disagreed with the council's vote to have the closed meeting. "The council should have had a discussion last night in public about it because (the contract) contains salaries and it pertains to an employee of the city," he said.

Sprecace said Thursday he wasn't comfortable voting to go into executive session without fully understanding the reasons why the discussion was being held in private. He said he thought that some of the discussion was appropriate for executive session, while some should have been held in public.

"I know that this issue has caused a great deal of angst in the community," he said. "That shouldn't be the case. I think it'd be much better if we were able to set people's minds at ease, but for the time being we can't do that due to the nature of the agreement and confidentiality."

Ackley's employment is a mix-and-match of the terms of the police union's contract and the contract that governs the unaffiliated, or non-union, employees of the city. That type of arrangement is standard procedure in many municipalities across the state, Welch and Rose said.

Ackley's annual salary of $107,500 is approved by the city council. Her vacation time and other benefits are spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement - unless she chooses otherwise. For example, it was unclear Thursday whether Ackley is paid overtime or receives compensatory time for extra hours worked; Welch said it depends on whether Ackley follows the union contract or the unaffiliated guidelines. She did not have that information immediately available Thursday.

Ackley will reach 25 years with the city later this month, according to Welch. Twenty-five years is the earliest a person can retire with full benefits under the state-run Municipal Employee Retirement Fund.

k.crompton@theday.com

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