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Chief Ackley was paid thousands in comp time

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published March 20. 2012 4:00AM

When the New London City Council on Jan. 17 voted not to approve the employment contract for police Chief Margaret Ackley negotiated by Mayor Daryl Finizio, it seemed to put to rest the notion that she would continue to receive hefty checks for past comp time she had accrued.

City Councilor Adam Sprecace specifically mentioned these costly comp time payments, which he estimated at about $60,000, in voting down the employment deal with the chief.

"This seems more like a retirement agreement," Sprecace said at the time.

The deal turned down by the council would have paid Ackley for 1,196 comp hours, in addition to a $110,725 annual salary.

And yet on Jan. 25, some eight days after the council rejected the deal, a payroll authorization and change for Chief Ackley was signed by Bernadette Welch, city personnel director, approving 92 hours of comp time per pay period from Jan. 1 until June 30.

That would be Sprecace's estimated pot of $60,000 for the chief, money being paid out in addition to her regular salary.

And indeed, according to payroll records acquired through a Freedom of Information request, the chief regularly received big comp checks this year. She got one on Jan. 6 of $4,258.66 for "comp time used." She got another on Jan. 20 for $235.29, one on Jan. 23 for $4,897.45 and another on Feb. 3, for another $4,897.45.

These payments were made in addition to others apparently approved by the previous city manager. Ackley received $4,897.45 on Dec. 9 and another $4,897.45 on Dec. 23.

Sprecace told me Monday he plans to raise the issue of the comp payments at a Finance Committee meeting of the council today. He said he had also seen a copy of the Jan. 25 payroll change order.

Welch told me Monday afternoon that she signed the payroll change authorizing the comp time payments on Jan. 25 because the payouts were already being made, according to the terms of the employment agreement the mayor signed with the chief.

She said she didn't move to stop the payments until she got official notice from the law director Feb. 14 that the chief's contract was no longer in force.

That was almost a month after the City Council rejected the contract and the payments. Welch said she had no authorization to stop the payments on her own, even though she knew the council had rejected the contract approved by the mayor.

I asked if the chief will be made to return the money. She said no.

Welch went on to explain the informal system for paying comp time to police chiefs and fire chiefs in municipalities around the state. She said the chiefs usually keep track of the time and are paid for it before they retire.

In some instances, she said, they are asked, prior to their retirement, to begin taking the time off. In those cases, she said, the chief works fewer days but still receives a normal paycheck. This is how New London's last police chief used up comp time before retiring, Welch said.

The agreement between Finizio and Ackley, Welch said, was meant to end the casual practice of accumulating comp time, by paying out the 1,196 hours this year. Chief Ackley would then not have been entitled to the money when she retires.

She will still be able to claim it now, though, Welch added, in the absence of an agreement.

The 1,196 hours were all accumulated since Ackley became chief, Welch said. She records and reports the extra hours she works each week, and is continuing to do so, Welch said.

And I thought managers who work extra hours without overtime pay do it, in part, because of dedication to the job and in part because they are being paid a substantial salary.

I guess not. Not in this case, anyway.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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