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Is this any way to run a city?

Published April 23. 2014 4:00AM

New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's shocking announcement Monday that the city does not have the money to meet its $1.7 million payroll at the end of the week and will need the state to speed up payment of education cost-sharing funds so it doesn't go broke is another sad installment in a seemingly endless saga of municipal dysfunction.

Just last week the mayor appeared to be preparing to take painful but necessary steps toward repairing New London's badly damaged financial house, but the roof may have fallen in on this reasonable approach when the told the City Council in a special meeting, "I'm not here tonight to warn you that the sky is falling. I'm here tonight to tell you that it fell. It fell last week."

This newspaper finds such a doomsday warning particularly troubling. Why didn't Mr. Finizio or Finance Director Jeff Smith realize that potential calamity was so close at hand? Worse, what if they did know all along and weren't letting on? Or worst still, what if the situation really isn't that bad and the mayor and his administrators are manipulating an emergency to advance a misguided agenda?

These are questions residents must be asking, and judging from past performance the public may not expect a clear answer soon.

Without delving into the complexities of the city's messy finances, it is safe to say they reflect failed leadership and poor communication that unfortunately have become a New London hallmark.

This newspaper supported Mr. Finizio in his 2011 bid to become the city's first strong mayor in nearly a century, joining a chorus of followers who believed in his determination to do away with old, flawed political practices in favor of a vision that would inspire a New London renaissance. We refuse to give up on this goal but have growing concerns over his ability to carry the flag.

Such doubts also stem from an ongoing, unrelated drama involving Mr. Finizio's police chief, Margaret Ackley.

The Day reported last week that Chief Ackley has in recent months used extensive sick leave and compensation time, in addition to the previous work she missed following an October 2012 incident during Superstorm Sandy when wind blew out a window at the city's emergency operations center and hit her in the head. The chief has taken off at least 38 days and has not put in a full work week so far this year.

Workers hurt on the job are contractually entitled to time off, and this newspaper is not in a position to question the legitimacy or seriousness of Chief Ackley's injuries, but we do know that her absence has been part of a continuing distraction and disruption in the department.

The chief, a onetime ally of Mr. Finizio, now is suing him, the city and attorney Brian Estep for reneging on a contract she signed in 2012 that would have paid her outright for accumulated compensation time amounting to about $60,000. With her case pending in New London Superior Court, the chief has to use some 30 weeks of compensation time by June 30 or lose it. In the meantime, her repeated absences have created a vacuum in a department that has had to deal with a series of challenges.

Like the city's failing finances, the situation with Chief Ackley must be fixed expeditiously or else it will continue to deteriorate - just as the leaky steam pipes at New London City Hall continued to cause damage under Mr. Finizio's watch.

All leaders face problems. Effective ones find solutions instead of blaming past managers or counting on others to bail - or throw - them out.

At the very least both the mayor and police chief should consider their legacies as well as the fortunes of the city they have pledged to serve.

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