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Ackley taking plenty of time

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published April 19. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 19. 2014 5:49PM
New London chief's lengthy absence seen as a 'dicey situation'

New London - Less than a year after returning from a reduced work schedule and time off due to a work-related injury, police Chief Margaret Ackley is again back to a shortened work schedule, using sick time and compensation time - more than seven weeks' worth in the first three months of the year, city records show.

Ackley has taken off at least 38 days - a mix of compensation and sick days - since Dec. 30. Records show that she still has 30 weeks, or 1,197.5 hours, of compensation time yet to use, according to information obtained by The Day as part of a Freedom of Information request. Records show she has not logged a full work week in any of the first 12 weeks of the year.

In October 2012 Ackley was hit in the head with a window that blew out at the emergency operations center on Bank Street during Superstorm Sandy. It led to a "light duty" work schedule in which city officials said Ackley was unable to work for more than two hours a day for more than two months. By Feb. 20 she was placed on medical leave that lasted for more than a month.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he is aware of Ackley's time off this year and pointed out in a recent email, "There is nothing improper in her use of comp and sick time, and the Chief remains an employee in good standing with the City of New London." He declined to answer any further questions on use of compensation time, his executive order ending compensation time or compensation time being used by Ackley, citing a pending lawsuit by Ackley against the city. The chief is suing the city, Finizio and attorney Brian Estep for reneging on a contract she signed in 2012 that would have paid her outright for the compensation time she accumulated since becoming chief in 2009, or about $60,000, according to previous City Council estimates.

Ackley could not be reached to comment Friday. Her case is pending in New London Superior Court.

As it stands, the indication in a memo to Ackley is that she has until June 30 to use up the compensation time, or lose it.

City Councilor Martin Olsen said authorization for the chief's time off is not within the purview of the council but called the time off and pending lawsuit "a dicey situation" that is "not in the best interests of the department or the City of New London."

"When she was initially hired as chief, she was exceptionally visible. She has become exceptionally invisible the last year or so," Olsen said. "She's walking a tight rope, but staying within the law. What's going on is not a healthy situation for the city, the citizens or the morale of the department. It's frustrating, I can tell you that."

Councilor Erica Richardson, chairwoman of the public safety committee, noting that Ackley has served the city for more than 25 years, said, unless she's breaking some law, it's much to do about nothing."

"You're allowed to take it whenever you want to take it as long as her job is being done," Richardson said. "If she's not going to get paid for it. … I'd use as much time as I could."

Richardson said Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard, who is acting chief in Ackley's absence, "has stepped up and the department hasn't skipped a beat at all."

Both council members said they are barred from any discussions that touch on Ackley's pending lawsuit.

Ackley claims in her suit that in December 2011, after announcing her planned retirement, Finizio requested she postpone it until Dec. 31, 2015.

As part of the agreement to keep her on as chief, Ackley signed a contract that would pay her a $110,725 annual salary with an agreement that she had accumulated 2,000 hours of compensation time. The agreement states she would be paid, in separate paychecks, the equivalent of 1,196 work hours at her regular rate of pay. The rest of the compensation time, or 804 hours, would be kept and used "subject to review by the mayor," according to the contract. The contract also calls for 190 hours of vacation time, 40 hours of holiday time, sick time and 24-hour use of a city vehicle.

Just two weeks after the contract was signed, however, the City Council cited budget concerns and rejected it, along with a $25,000 settlement Finizio had offered her to settle her claims of harassment and interfering against former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III.

The practice of compensation time, paid regular work days off in lieu of overtime, for nonunion employees was halted through an executive order by Finizio in 2012. Finizio replaced compensation time with flex time, or unpaid days off, and ordered that all remaining compensation time be used by June 30, 2013.

Records show Ackley was granted an extra year to use up her time because of the injury and subsequent time off.

A July 25, 2013, memo from former Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover to Ackley shows Ackley was allowed to carry over the amount of compensatory time on the books at that time - 1,584.5 hours - because of her injury when she was "unable to use compensatory time for nearly five of the 10 months allowed by the mayor to use or lose such time."

Ackley's attorney, Leon Rosenblatt, said the executive order amounted to "changing the rules in the middle of the game."

"If you tell people who have accrued time through the years they are being cut off … the natural consequence is that people are going to take time off," Rosenblatt said in an interview this week. "If she was doing that, she is doing what any sensible person would do. …The mayor is trying to take something away from her that already belongs to her. Earned time is a property."

Rosenblatt said he would sue the city again if Ackley is forced to leave accrued time on the table.

Richardson said she hoped for a speedy resolution to the lawsuit so that the focus can turn back to the achievements of the officers at the department and not the controversies.

g.smith@theday.com

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