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Ackley vs. Buscetto to play out over three New London ethics hearings

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published October 25. 2011 4:00AM
Police chief's complaint against city councilor to open Nov. 16

New London - The battle between the police chief and a city councilor who is running for mayor continues, with the Board of Ethics setting a hearing to discuss what may ultimately be just a footnote in the three-month-long saga.

The Board of Ethics will hold a hearing in three sessions in November and December to discuss a complaint from Chief Margaret Ackley, who is alleging that City Councilor Michael Buscetto III violated the city's Code of Ethics when he refused to recuse himself from City Council meetings in August.

But the larger issue, which the City Council has hired a retired Superior Court judge to investigate, revolves around Ackley's allegations that Buscetto has tried to undermine her authority as chief with "defamatory remarks and threats."

K. Robert Lewis, chairman of the ethics board, said Monday that members will meet with their attorney at 6 p.m. on Nov. 2 at City Hall to discuss procedures for the hearing, which centers on Buscetto refusing to recuse himself from three meetings in August in which Ackley's retirement contract was discussed.

The board previously found probably cause that Buscetto violated the parts of the ethics code that pertain to standards of conduct, conflict of interest and confidential information.

The hearing is expected to start at 5 p.m. on Nov. 16 at City Hall and continue to 5 p.m. on Nov. 30 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 7.

Interference alleged

In an Aug. 10 letter to City Attorney Thomas Londregan from Ackley's attorney Shelley Graves, Ackley asked for a closed meeting to discuss "improper conduct, primarily by City Councilman Michael Buscetto, aimed to impede her ability to effectively function as police chief.'' She also alleged that Buscetto's conduct was creating "a hostile work environment."

The letter alluded to "defamatory remarks, threats and improper systemic interference orchestrated by Councilman Buscetto ...''

The ethics board released the letter over the weekend, when it announced it had found probable cause to go forward with the complaint.

In late July, the City Council learned of an April 6 memorandum of understanding between Ackley and City Manager Denise Rose. It outlined a retirement agreement that, in part, requires Ackley to remain as chief through December but also includes a clause that allows her to opt out of the retirement agreement in December and remain on the job.

Londregan has said the document is binding, even though the council had no knowledge of it until August.

At the time, Ackley said she wanted to retire and blamed Buscetto for interfering with her department. She threatened a lawsuit, but no lawsuit has been filed.

During an Aug. 24 City Council meeting, Graves gave Londregan a letter that outlined her specific complaints against Buscetto, which the city has refused to release. The Day has filed a Freedom of Information complaint to obtain the document, which is pending.

During all three meetings, Ackley asked Buscetto not to go into the closed meetings when her complaints were being discussed. He refused.

In his response to the complaint, Buscetto said there is no evidence to support an ethics violation. He said he has no financial or personal interest in the issues and was never given an opportunity to vote on any action pertaining to Ackley's retirement negotiation, contract or legal claims.

Ackley never gave a reason as to why he should not attend the meetings, he said.

"If this were to be considered probable cause, it would allow any person coming before the council to eliminate any councilor they wanted from hearing information by simply requesting that a person recuse themselves without stating facts,'' Buscetto wrote in response to the allegation. "The chilling effect that could follow would put the elected officials in New London in a position that would make it nearly impossible to govern effectively."

In August, Lewis sent a memo to city councilors suggesting that his board, rather than the City Council, look into the chief's allegations. Lewis asked how the council, which includes three mayoral candidates, could order an investigation into allegations made against one candidate and then have all three candidates vote on the findings.

Monday, Lewis said he never received a response.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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