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Ethics board holds closed meeting on Ackley claims

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published September 08. 2011 4:00AM

New London - The city's Board of Ethics may decide to conduct its own investigation into alleged ethics violations by City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, but it closed its doors to the public Wednesday night before making any decision.

Five members of the seven-member board voted to go into executive session to review its "authority and responsibilities ... to investigate claims of unethical behavior against a sitting member of the council.''

Chairman K. Robert Lewis said the board can discuss "issues involving the code of ethics'' in closed session.

The Day objected to the closed-door portion of the meeting, saying the item was a matter of policy and not protected under the state Freedom of Information Act.

For several minutes before the doors were closed, Lewis reviewed an email he sent to city councilors Aug. 26 in which he stated he believed the council could not investigate itself and that the ethics panel should look into the allegations leveled against Buscetto by Police Chief Margaret Ackley.

Mayor Martin Olsen said he was asked informally by the City Council to attend the ethics board meeting. He told them that the council voted late Tuesday to create a three-member subcommittee to review a list of possible investigators to look into Ackley's claims. The committee is Adam Sprecace, Wade Hyslop and Michael Passero.

The City Council met in closed session Aug. 24 to discuss a list of complaints by Ackley, who said during a public meeting that Buscetto was interfering with the police department, undermining her authority and creating a hostile work environment.

City Law Director Thomas Londregan would not release Ackley's list, saying it pertained to "strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation.'' The Day has requested a copy of the list, believing it to be a public document.

Last week Ackley also confirmed that she filed a complaint with the ethics board against Buscetto, but she would not say what it was about.

In open session Wednesday, the ethics board also talked about asking for a copy of Ackley's list and possibly sharing the City Council's investigator. There was also a question of how the board, which has no budget, could pay a private investigator.

At least two members of the board questioned why the public was allowed into any portion of the meeting,

"My concern, and my history with the ethics board during 25 to 30 years, is we've never had public sessions,'' said Eunice Waller, a former mayor who, at the Tuesday night council meeting, supported the chief and called on city councilors to ask Ackley not to retire.

Board member Sheila McCarthy also questioned why the public was allowed into a portion of the meeting.

According the city's Code of Ethics, the board has five days to respond to a complaint. If the board accepts the complaint, it has 90 days to investigate and evaluate the merits of the complaint. If probable cause is found, the board has five to 14 days to make it public. A hearing must be set up within 90 days and the board has 30 days to deliberate on a code violation.

According the code, which was amended in May, "the complaint and all information supplied to or received from the Board during the evaluation or investigation shall remain confidential."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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