Details of Ackley-City Council meeting emerge in New London

New London - A closed-door City Council meeting last week appears to have been about the police chief's intention to possibly take legal action against the city in connection with her employment.

The city continues to refuse to release details of the Aug. 10 meeting with Police Chief Margaret Ackley, except to say it concerned a "preliminary draft" of an agreement between Ackley and City Manager Denise Rose.

City Attorney Thomas Londregan said Wednesday the chief remains employed by the city "until she decides to retire," and the agreement remains confidential until she decides to implement it or negate it. She has until Dec. 30 to negate the agreement, he said.

Londregan sent The Day a three-page letter and about 20 pages of backup information in response to a Freedom of Information request for documents pertaining to the chief's employment and communications between her and the city.

He said his office has received two letters from Ackley's attorneys, dated July 29 and Aug. 10.

"A fair interpretation of those letters indicates an intention by the Chief to assert a legal right and the intention to institute an action against the City if relief is not granted," he said. He would not provide the letters, citing attorney/client privilege on behalf of the city.

He also declined to provide a copy of the "Memorandum of Understanding and a Release and Settlement Agreement" between Ackley and Rose, saying it has not been implemented and has not been ratified by the City Council. He said the document is a preliminary draft and is exempt from FOI disclosure if withholding the document outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

In response to a request for other communications between the city and Ackley or her attorneys, he invoked attorney/client privilege and said the city is also "seeking legal advice and expects that the communications are in confidence."

Last week's special City Council meeting was called to discuss Ackley's employment but not her performance or evaluation, Londregan said.

"... Chief Ackley enjoys employment with the City until she decides to retire unless the City has 'just cause' to remove her,'' he said. "The City has no indication of any 'just cause.'"

Londregan had no further comment on the matter. The chief did not respond to an email request for a comment.

Ackley has 25 years with the department, including the last two as chief. She is the first woman to head the 96-officer department.

Her one-page appointment letter, dated June 1, 2009, from former City Manager Martin H. Berliner, sets her salary at $99,428, and gives her the option of maintaining a pension plan under the police union contract or moving to a contributory plan for unaffiliated managers.

Last week, city councilors emerged from the two-hour closed-door meeting and said they were precluded from talking about the meeting because of a confidentiality clause in a document between Ackley and the city.

Before the meeting began, Ackley asked that Councilor Michael Buscetto III recuse himself from participating but he declined. Councilors Rob Pero and Adam Sprecace voted against going into executive session.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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