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    Local Columns
    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    New London's embarrassing attempt to let its police chief slink out of town

    New London Mayor Michael Passero, in explaining his inexcusable decision to let police Chief Peter Reichard slink quietly out of town after being caught on tape disparaging the city and making racially charged comments, admitted to trying to sweep it all under the rug.

    "We met with the employee and he gave up his post and that was the end of it," the mayor said, explaining how the chief resigned after being confronted with the recording. "I did not believe it was my responsibility to further embarrass the city with the revelations at the time."

    Of course it was the mayor's responsibility to explain to the people of New London why the city's chief law enforcement officer resigned so suddenly, without even giving notice.

    It was certainly not the mayor's responsibility to hide the chief's offensive behavior and suggest that Reichard, out of the blue, just had this pressing desire to retire and promptly abandon his post.

    Of course things like this don't stay under the rug, and the mayor, by trying to hide the police chief's unacceptable behavior, embarrassed the city far more with his plain dishonesty by omission about the chief's departure than he would have by telling the truth.

    City councilors who certainly should have known what was going on, as the story bounced all over social media, should take equal blame for letting the truth remain buried for so long.

    When the lights finally snapped on, following a news story about the matter in The Day, councilors all scurried to any dark corner they could find, claiming they had known nothing, even as the city gossip meter glowed a fiery red.

    Every councilor should have, at the very least, demanded an immediate explanation for the sudden departure of the police chief.

    The mayor's inclination to hide personnel decisions involving a public official is not new in the region.

    Indeed, Stonington school officials take the prize for sweeping job discipline under the rug, failing to disclose all kinds of troubling sexual harassment while quietly moving offenders along, even paying generous severance benefits.

    This is the same kind of horrific behavior we learned that Roman Catholic bishops often practiced, moving sexual offenders along to the next unsuspecting community while never exposing their misdeeds.

    Another good example of sweeping job discipline of public officials under the rug was the firing of the executive director of the scandal-plagued Connecticut Port Authority.

    It took many months and denied FOI access to records and files before the truth finally came out, and then only when legislators finally demanded answers in a General Assembly public hearing.

    There is nothing in the law to protect public officials from general disclosure about these matters. Anyone with a public job should understand that they are employed by taxpayers who have a right to demand public accountability and transparency, aside from some limited privacy protections, in regards to who they are paying.

    No legal lightning bolt came out of the sky and struck down Mayor Passero when he finally told the truth about the chief.

    The incident with the police chief also suggests a troubling environment in the city for such behavior to continue, given the allegations by the city's former risk manager, Paul Gills, who claims in a pending lawsuit that the Passero administration favors political campaign volunteers, donors and other cronies in making personnel decisions.

    The mayor and Steve Fields, his chief administrative officer, refused to comment on the lawsuit. That's odd, because there's no law against denying explosive allegations in a lawsuit, any more than there is one saying you can't explain why the police chief suddenly retired.

    One of the troubling allegations in the Gills lawsuit is that Fields, described as "easily enraged," did not want the risk manager to put anything in emails that could be disclosed through FOI requests. Gills said he eventually had to submit all his emails to the finance director before replying to any internal or external communication.

    Yikes.

    In one meeting about a union demand, unchallenged by the administration, that an injured firefighter not return to work despite a doctor's OK, Gills said Fields appeared very agitated, shoved an email at him, raised his voice and said, in what the risk manager called a threatening manner: "I told you I do not want anything in an email that would be FOI-able."

    It seems transparency about personnel issues, even in emails by an experienced, professional risk manager, is something to be avoided at all costs at New London City Hall.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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