Finizio issues first executive orders

New London - Saying he has the right to allocate city resources in the most productive way possible, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio issued executive orders Tuesday instructing city police on how to deal with illegal immigrants and marijuana use on private property.

During his first full day in office after being sworn in Monday, Finizio said he was following through on campaign promises when he issued five orders, including at least three that he admitted may be considered controversial.

"I promised we would have progressive government in New London," Finizio said in a telephone interview. "There may be some controversy, but it's done - I did it - and we're moving forward."

The three most controversial are:

• Ordering city police not to pursue charges involving possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia if the violation occurs on private property and the landowner has not made a complaint or requested police assistance.

• Ordering that no disciplinary action be taken against city employees who test positive for marijuana during random testing, except for those involved in safety-related occupations.

• Ordering police not to inquire into a person's immigration status or to take measures against a suspected illegal alien or refugee unless a possible violation of federal immigration law is being investigated.

City Council President Michael Passero said he was aware the orders had been in the works but was surprised to read about them in the press before receiving his own copy.

"I'd like to think that in the hubbub of a new administration, this was just an oversight," Passero said in an interview Tuesday.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, Councilor Adam Sprecace attempted to add an item to the agenda to discucss the orders, but his motion failed. He said he wanted the law director's office to draft an ordinance, which the council would review at the next meeting, that would have identified the "policy of the City of New London to enforce all laws of the state and the State of Connecticut."

Sprecace, who also was aware the orders from Finizio were coming, said there may be language that addresses his concerns but he has yet to see the documentation. "I just want to make sure all laws will be enforced,'' he said after the meeting. "I have a problem if we're asking police officers to look the other way."

Finizio said he gave a heads-up to city councilors and the city departments affected by the measures but admitted he never shared the final verbiage with councilors before filing the orders Tuesday with the city clerk's office. He promised to provide an advance copy of executive orders to councilors in the future.

Martin Olsen, New London's ceremonial mayor before Finizio took the reins as the city's first "strong" mayor in 90 years, said he was concerned that his successor was attempting to override a drug policy the City Council had previously approved. "I worry about the example that's being set for kids regarding marijuana use," he said.

Finizio, however, said the executive orders were not meant to override state or local laws and that they do not indicate that the city is condoning drug violations. He said that possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana is treated as an infraction under state law, similar to a parking ticket, and that he didn't think a city worker deserved to be reprimanded for such a minor violation.

Finizio earlier had told a member of The Day's editorial department that he would prefer marijuana to be legalized. "Consenting adults should have a certain zone of privacy, a right to live as they choose," he said.

As for the issue regarding immigrants, Finizio said he promised such an order during the campaign. He added that he is considering starting a dialogue with the City Council to enact an ordinance similar to New Haven's identification-card program intended to elicit more cooperation with police during criminal investigations.

According to Finizio's executive order, "Officers of the New London Police Department shall not independently undertake to approach, interview, interrogate, detain or arrest any suspected illegal alien or refugee when a potential violation of the federal immigration law is not the principal issue."

Under other Finizio orders, police are prohibited from using profiling techniques to pull over potential criminals, and the first Sunday before Memorial Day is now New London Neighbor Day, to be celebrated in front of City Hall.

l.howard@theday.com

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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