Published July 30. 2014 7:33PM Updated July 31. 2014 11:57AM
New London — Claiming her authority is being usurped by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, Police Chief Margaret Ackley on Wednesday filed a request for a preliminary injunction asking a judge to order Finizio “to cease ignoring, bypassing, isolating, and marginalizing” her.
The request was filed as part of Ackley’s ongoing lawsuit against the city that has seen little movement in recent months, according to Ackley’s attorney Leon M. Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt said asking the court to intervene in an internal situation was an aggressive action needed in light of Finizio’s interference.
Ackley has statutory protection against being terminated without just cause, Rosenblatt said, but Finizio has “de facto removed her” from her position and is breaking the chain of command by giving orders to Ackley’s subordinates.
Ackley is asking that during the pending case, Finizio not interfere with her duties.
“She’s been completely sidelined. Law enforcement in New London is being run by someone who knows nothing about law enforcement,” Rosenblatt said in a reference to Finizio.
Rosenblatt said that a state statute and city ordinance limit Finizio’s power over supervision of the department to “general oversight over the Chief’s running of the department.”
Ackley claims she is barred from speaking to members of the City Council, the media and other boards or commissions without permission. She was dismissed from participation in contract negotiations and sidelined from the planning of Sailfest, he said.
Ackley claims Finizio’s involvement in contract negotiations was so he could curry favor with the union, but it led to a proposal that will cost taxpayers an extra $1 million and reduce officers on the streets at any given time. Information on the tentative contract has not been made public.
Local police union President Todd Lynch, responding to the claims, said, “Working with the chief simply wasn’t working.”
“It wasn’t our choice who was on the city side … but we had positive results when she was not involved,” Lynch said.
Rosenblatt said Sailfest was a “near disaster,” whose planning by civilians allowed for dangerous conditions because of a lack of officers, a “near-riot” and the emergency closing of downtown bars.
Ackley, in the injunction request filed Wednesday, also claims that Finizio’s interference with the administration of the police department is the reason so many officers have left the force and reduced the staffing to dangerously low levels.
“Things have gotten totally out of control as Sailfest events show. It’s gone from at best an internal dispute to what is currently jeopardizing public safety, caused by the mayor and his petulance,” Rosenblatt said.
A preliminary hearing on Ackley’s request is scheduled for Aug. 18 at New London Superior Court.
City Councilor Erica Richardson, head of the council’s public safety committee, said even before joining the council, she had been dealing with Deputy Chief Peter Reichard as a member of the Police Community Relations Committee. That relationship carried through to the council subcommittee meetings. She and other councilors learned only recently through Chief Administrative Officer Laura Natusch, under questioning from Councilor Martin Olsen, that communications from the chief needed to go through the mayor.
Richardson declined to comment on the pending suit but said the city, for the good of residents, needed to “put the personalities on the back burner and get back to the work for the city.”
“We don’t have time for distraction of any kind, whether they have merit or not,” Richardson said. “We’re always sort of fighting battles instead of moving forward.”
Finizio declined to comment.
Ackley’s pending lawsuit, filed in June 2013, claims the city reneged on a signed contract that included an annual salary of $110,725 along with payments for past compensation time. The City Council rejected the contract and a $25,000 settlement Finizio had offered her to settle claims of harassment and interfering against former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III.
Information obtained by The Day earlier this year showed Ackley had been using a mix of compensation time and sick leave to work a reduced schedule since the beginning of the year. Ackley took off at least 38 days in the first three months of the year, and records show she had 30 weeks of accumulated compensation time to be taken before July 1. Updated numbers were not immediately available.
Finizio had ended the use of compensation time by city employees and given Ackley until June 30 to use her time.
Ackley was appointed chief in 2009 and has been a police officer since 1986.