By MIKE CHAIKEN
The investigation of an independent attorney has found that the mayor personally retaliated against a city employee for raising the issue of sexual harassment by the city’s top elected official.
The investigation by independent counsel Attorney Michael Rose of FordHarrison also states Mayor Ken Cockayne threatened the Attorney Richard Lacey of corporation counsel for looking into the claims of sexual harassment and political retaliation.
The report, however, cleared the mayor of sexual harassment charges made by the unnamed female employee because during the period of the employee’s claim of harassment the pair were engaged in a personal relationship. Additionally, the report cleared the mayor of political retaliation against the city employee.
The report dated June 28 was provided to the council at a special meeting last Wednesday. A summary of the report, with the name of the employee making the claim censored, was provided to the media after the meeting. The edited report did not include any details of what exactly ensued in city hall.
In response to the report, the mayor issued a written statement, which was read at the council meeting, “I apologize to this employee and to the people of Bristol for my lapse in judgement. I take full responsibility for my actions and promise to convert this negative situation into a positive outcome. I also want to apologize to Attorney Lacey in the Corporation Counsel’s office for my comments to him in a private March meeting, as well as make clear that any communications between the two of us detailed in the investigative report were made in an effort to protect the female employee from potentially negative publicity.”
In his statement, Cockayne explained he had the relationship with the employee eight years ago prior to his election as mayor but when he was a member of the city council. He said it led to an “awkward relationship moving forward.”
Rose’s report advised the apology from Cockayne. It also noted that the attempt to prevent Lacey from doing his job was wrong and violated the city’s anti-retaliation policy. “It was a grievous error on (the mayor’s) part that in many professions would cost him his employment.”
In Rose’s report, he recommends the city hire an outside agent, an ombudsman, to handle retaliatory claims. “Bristol must recognize that claims against the Mayor, who is the City’s Chief Executive, cannot credibly be investigated by the personnel director, who is also appointed by the mayor…”
The report also recommended “training on harassment, retaliation, and concerted action/ free speech rights of public employees” for all supervisors.
In his statement, Cockayne said he was “pleased” that he was cleared of sexual harassment and political retaliation charges. “I am disappointed and disagree with the findings of personal retaliation which simply did not occur.”
But Cockayne said he would follow the recommendation of Rose’s report “to put this matter behind us, and I promise to do my part to restore professional working relations with Attorney Lacey and the female employee.”
In a recording of the special meeting posted by Bristol CT Open Government Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uunzW7kSLFE), Councilor David Preleski said—following a closed door session of the panel, the council had not seen Rose’s report until that evening. Preleski said the council will review the report and will hold a follow-up meeting. At that time, Preleski said it will decide what actions and what corrective measures the city will need to take.
Preleski said the council was disappointed in the circumstances surrounding the report. However, Preleski said the council would not make any further comments at the time of the meeting.