Mayor Finizio isn't talking about his ailing police chief

I think in my next career I would like to come back as the much-rewarded, much-forgiven New London Police Chief Margaret Ackley.

After all, in what other job could you claim a work-related injury and then, for the next three and a half months, only show up for work two hours a day.

I am pretty sure most other employers would insist that some kind of formal procedure be followed, that a workers' compensation claim be filed, for instance, and the legal procedures for that process be adhered to.

But, apparently, in New London, the chief can cut her own hours as she sees fit and keep cashing paychecks.

I say apparently because the city administration has been anything but forthcoming on this issue of the police chief's reduced hours.

Did the chief file a workers' compensation claim? Who is officially following her medical progress? Is any of this being covered by insurance, or is the city directly paying the chief's wages and medical bills?

How has the police department run for almost four months without a full-time designated chief?

Really, the public has no way of knowing what's going on.

I filed a Freedom of Information request last month with the mayor's office, requesting documentation of the chief's reduced hours.

I knew that detailed medical reports on the chief's health would rightfully not be subject to disclosure. But an FOI expert assured me all the bureaucratic paperwork involving any kind of medical leave, including emails by city officials exchanging information about the absence of the city's police chief, would be public.

The mayor's executive assistant acknowledged my FOI request almost as soon as I made it. But then no response followed.

This week, I filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission, saying the city had not provided any of the requested material. I mailed a copy of the complaint to the mayor's office Monday.

Then on Wednesday, the mayor publicly issued a memo he wrote that day to the chief, telling her she is no longer "authorized to work light duty."

The reference to light duty work evidently refers to a city "Return to Work Policy" that was established in November 2012, the month after the chief was injured.

The mayor's memo went on to tell the chief that she would receive "full salary continuation under worker's compensation until your situation changes."

The release of the memo, though, raised more questions than it answers.

And then the mayor refused to answer any questions about it.

The police chief's health is her own business.

And no doubt anyone in the city would wish her a swift recovery, especially since the injuries occurred while she was in the service of the city, indeed at work during an emergency, as a dangerous hurricane lashed the state.

Still, given the political storms that have swirled around the chief and the mayor since her undermining of his principal opponent in the last election, erring on the side of full disclosure would be appropriate.

The mayor took a lot of heat both for proposing at one time that the chief be given $25,000 to settle harassment claims against a city councilor - claims an independent judge found had no legal merit - and that she be paid $60,000 for extra hours she had worked.

The City Council eventually rejected both settlements.

Indeed, the chief has a long history of filing complaints against the city, going back to when she was a rank-and-file member of the police department and claimed gender discrimination. The Hartford law firm hired to investigate that claim found it had no merit.

Now and in the future, Mayor Finizio should be sure that claims and complaints made by any and all city employees are settled fairly and publicly.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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