New London - Police Chief Margaret Ackley announced Wednesday that she will retire and accused Councilor Michael Buscetto III of discrimination, harassment and trying to undermine her authority with some members of the police department.
"Because of the ongoing distress caused by Councilor Buscetto, I'm requesting to retire,'' Ackley told the City Council during a special meeting.
After meeting in an executive session to discuss a lawsuit Ackley is threatening against the city, the council directed City Attorney Thomas Londregan to hire a private investigator to investigate the validity of the chief's accusations.
Ackley told the council that Buscetto, who is one of three city councilors running for mayor this fall, has "systematically" created a hostile work environment for her, made inflammatory remarks about her and called her subordinates directly after being told not to.
"I am no longer able to effectively lead this department,'' she said during Wednesday's meeting. "Today, I make my choice. I will not tolerate it any longer."
Ackley's lawyer, Shelley Graves, also presented Londregan with a letter with a list of claims that would form the basis of the lawsuit. Londregan refused to release the letter, saying state Freedom of Information laws don't require it.
Buscetto said he welcomed any investigation into the chief's allegations.
"It's truly unfortunate the chief feels this way,'' Buscetto said. "And she chose the City Council as her stage.''
He said there have been no formal complaints made against him.
"Anyone can come up here and make accusations. And some are not all true, as you all know,'' he said.
During the meeting, Buscetto extensively questioned the chief's retirement agreement, including her pension benefits and the amount of compensation time she is claiming.
The council voted 6-1 to discuss the pending litigation in a closed-door meeting, which Londregan said is allowed under the Freedom of Information laws. Deputy Mayor John Russell voted against it.
"I think it should all be out in the open,'' Russell said.
Graves asked that Buscetto not attend the executive session.
But Buscetto said he was going to "politely decline the gracious offer not to attend.''
Londregan told the council it cannot force a person to recuse himself.
"You cannot make an elected official not participate,'' he said.
Earlier in the year, Ackley went to City Manager Denise Rose and said she wanted to retire in August. Rose asked her to wait until after the November election to maintain stability in the police department during the transition from the city manager form of government to elected mayor.
A "memorandum of understanding" between the two included a confidentiality clause. Londregan said the city manager and police chief wanted to keep the retirement agreement private until after the election to ensure a smooth transition.
Ackley and Rose agreed to waive the confidentiality clause, and the agreement was made public at the meeting Wednesday.
(Corrected from the original version of this story):
Under the agreement, which Londregan said is binding even though the council had no knowledge of it until earlier this month, Ackley would be paid $64,616 when she retires in January. She would give up about 2,500 hours of compensation time, saving the city about $200,000. The city would pay 50 percent of her insurance costs until she is eligible for Medicare and make a one-time payment to her pension of $10,000.
Without the agreement, if Ackley were to retire Aug. 31, the city would pay her about $239,667 for unused vacation, holiday and comp time. If she were to retire in January, with no agreement in place, the city would pay her $276,011.