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New London police chief drops ethics complaint vs. city councilor

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: The Day

Published 11/17/2011 12:00 AM
Updated 11/16/2011 11:47 PM

New London - The Board of Ethics officially dismissed and closed the Ackley vs. Buscetto case Wednesday, the same night the first of three hearings on the issue was scheduled to take place.

The board, by a 5-0 vote, accepted a request by Police Chief Margaret Ackley to withdraw her ethics complaint against City Councilor Michael Buscetto III. Ackley made the request Tuesday, a week after Buscetto lost his bid to become the city's first strong mayor in decades.

Neither Ackley nor Buscetto was in attendance Wednesday, but each was represented by their respective attorneys.

Buscetto's term on the council will end Dec. 5. Shelley Graves, an attorney for Ackley, said before the meeting that because Buscetto will no longer be a councilor there is no need for the complaint to proceed.

Ackley alleged that Buscetto violated the city's Code of Ethics when he refused to recuse himself from three City Council meetings in August in which Ackley's retirement contract was discussed. The board set the hearings after finding probable cause that Buscetto violated the parts of the ethics code that pertain to standards of conduct, conflict of interest and confidential information.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to the ethics board, Graves said, "As the scheduled ethics hearing is narrowly limited in scope to the propriety of recusal, the issue would appear to be moot and we no longer have a compelling reason to continue forward with the complaint. As a result, it is hereby withdrawn."

Buscetto and his attorney, Kelly Reardon, have alleged from the start that the complaint was politically motivated.

Ackley confirmed Sept. 2 that she had filed a complaint with the Board of Ethics, 11 days prior to the Democratic primary election in which Buscetto was to face Daryl Justin Finizio. Buscetto lost the primary but later registered as a write-in candidate for the Nov. 8 general election, in which he finished second to Finizio out of six mayoral candidates.

"The fact that (Ackley) waited a week until after the election to withdraw her complaint is a clear indication of what she intended to do, which was to ensure that Mr. Buscetto got a lot of negative publicity, that his reputation was tarnished and that he lost the election," Reardon said in a phone call before the meeting Wednesday. "It's a shame that the board has allowed itself to be used as a tool for (Ackley) to obtain her objectives."

In September, Reid Burdick, who has held elective and appointed positions in city government, lodged a complaint with the Board of Ethics alleging that board members Eunice Waller, K. Robert Lewis, Brian Giesing, Sheila McCarthy and Denis Downing should recuse themselves from investigating any complaint against Buscetto because each had a conflict of interest. Only Giesing agreed to recuse himself. Downing, Lewis and Waller voted on Wednesday night.

Burdick did not attend Wednesday's meeting.

Earlier this year, Ackley reached an agreement with the city manager to retire by the end of the year, and said at a City Council meeting in August that Buscetto was "causing her distress" by meddling in police affairs and that she was unable to do her job. That agreement has an opt-out clause that would allow her to change her mind.

At that meeting, she threatened a lawsuit against the city and submitted a list of her complaints against Buscetto. That list has not been released to the public, and The Day has filed a Freedom of Information request for it.

That claim against the city is separate, and Graves said Wednesday it is still pending. The City Council retained former Superior Court Judge Beverly Hodgson last month to investigate.

Graves said city Law Director Thomas Londregan has told Ackley that Buscetto "will not be involved in any further council discussions or action concerning her legal claim between now and the end of Mr. Buscetto's term on the council."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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