Ethics board weighs in on Ackley dispute

New London - A dispute between a city councilor and the police chief continues to roil, with a mayoral candidate issuing a statement that calls for "transparent government," and the head of the Board of Ethics suggesting his committee get involved.

City Councilor Rob Pero, who is the Republican candidate for mayor, issued a statement over the weekend asking city officials to focus their energies on reforms rather than the accusations of unethical behavior that Police Chief Margaret Ackley has leveled against Councilor Michael Buscetto III. Buscetto is the party-endorsed Democratic mayoral candidate. He faces a party primary Sept. 13.

"The city of New London finds itself in the midst of a crisis ... Unfortunately, this conflict has resulted in a taxpayer funded private investigation that will continue to provide more uncertainty and strain on the City,'' Pero said, referring to a city council directive to the law director to find a private investigator to look into the accusations the chief made last week.

"I think we should focus our energies on moving the city along,'' Pero said Monday. "And not get bogged down into the whole debate."

"Investigations suck the life and energy out of a community,'' he continued. "There are a lot of issues the community needs to address and stay focused on."

At the forefront, he said, is how the city will spend $9 million in bond money, whether to build a new high school and the coming vote on the potential sale of a portion of Riverside Park.

Buscetto responded that he, too, is looking out for taxpayers and said a retirement agreement Ackley made with City Manager Denise Rose will end up costing the city additional money. The agreement was signed in April. The council learned about it earlier this month.

"Councilor Pero has mentioned conflict in city government resulting in unnecessary use of taxpayer monies. However, I see this as a straightforward issue,'' Buscetto said in a prepared statement. "This is not and should not be a campaign issue. It's about doing the job that we were elected to do - looking out for our taxpayers."

Meanwhile, K. Robert Lewis, chairman of the city's ethics board, sent a memo to city councilors suggesting the chief has an ethics complaint that should be addressed by his committee.

"I want to opine that the council cannot investigate itself, even through the office of the Law Director,'' Lewis wrote. "It is for the seven members of the Board of Ethics to follow the (prescribed) procedure, hire an investigator as necessary and conduct hearings if Probable Cause is found.''

A Board of Ethics meeting has been scheduled for Friday at a time and place to be announced, Lewis said Monday.

"What we will talk about is whether this is in our purview or if this not in our purview,'' he said.

He asked how the council, which includes three mayoral candidates, can order an investigation into allegations made against one candidate and then have all three candidates vote on what is found. Besides Buscetto and Pero, Councilor Martin Olsen, who is the ceremonial mayor this year, is running as a petitioning candidate.

"It gives the appearance that the council is investigating themselves,'' he said. "The Board of Ethics has no one involved."

While no complaint has been filed with the board, Lewis said the board can initiate alleged ethics violations if five of its seven members vote to do so.

"I know it was out of abundance of concern they did what they did,'' Lewis said, referring to the council's vote to investigate the complaints. "My point is, this is what this body (Board of Ethics) exists for.''

Last week Ackley announced she wants to retire and accused Buscetto of interfering with her department. She also threatened to file a lawsuit, alleging that Buscetto has harassed her and created a hostile work environment.


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