New London - Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who two weeks ago accused a city councilor of undermining her authority and announced that she planned to retire, got a burst of public support Tuesday from a former mayor and several other residents.
"I've been very proud of our police chief. I know how hard she works. I'd like her not to (leave),'' said Eunice Waller, who served on the council in the 1980s and was one of the city's five women mayors. "We need to apologize to her, and whatever she's misunderstood, we need to help her understand."
Waller was one of a handful of residents who praised the police chief during Tuesday's City Council meeting. The council chamber was full, and many applauded after each person spoke positively about the chief.
"Police Chief Margaret Ackley is the best chief we have ever known,'' said Larry Hample, who lives on Pequot Avenue. "It seems she has a decision to make - to retire or stay on longer. Seems a little strange to me."
And Evelyn Louziotis, a frequent speaker at council meetings, urged councilors to persuade Ackley to stay.
"You all need to talk to her ... and say 'we don't want you to go,'' she said.
Two weeks ago, after the City Council learned of a retirement agreement signed by Ackley and the city manager in April, the chief stood up at a meeting and said that City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, a current candidate for mayor, was causing her "ongoing distress'' by meddling in police affairs and she could no longer do her job.
Under the agreement, the chief, who has been with the department for 25 years, the last two as chief, will remain on the job through Dec. 31 and then retire. But there is also an option for her to negate the contract after the Nov. 8 mayoral election and stay on as chief.
Ackley has also threatened a lawsuit against the city and has submitted a list of her complaints against Buscetto.
But City Attorney Thomas Londregan has not released the document, citing potential litigation that is protected from disclosure under state Freedom of Information laws.
Buscetto has denied any interference with the police department and said he does not know what is motivating the chief to lash out at him.
During a council subcommittee meeting earlier in the day, Buscetto asked the city manager and attorney Brian Estep, who negotiated the agreement for the city, if his name was brought up during the negotiations.
Estep said Buscetto's name "was not brought up in any document'' but when pressed by City Councilor Rob Pero, who is also a candidate for mayor, Estep said, "I've yet to work with any department head that didn't have an issue with the council.''
City Manager Denise Rose said the chief did not give a reason why she wanted to leave. Ackley was eligible to retire in August.
But City Councilor John Russell called the discussion about Ackley's agreement "a smoke screen for what's really going on.''
"It's the elephant in the room,'' he said, questioning why Rose would not want to know why a 49-year-old police chief who has a job for life would suddenly want to retire.
"Doesn't that sound strange to you?'' he asked.
The committee meeting was adjourned after an hour and the topic will be discussed at the next meeting.
The council has asked the city attorney to find a private investigator to look into Ackley's allegations, and the Board of Ethics is considering conducting its own investigation.