Apologies and accusations



Emotions ran high during a city council meeting last week after Mayor Ken Cockayne’s apology to his cousin, councilor Jodi Zils Gagne, prompted further queries from councilor Calvin Brown.

Cockayne, a Republican, read a statement into the record apologizing to Gagne, also a Republican, for any tension or hurt caused by a personal matter that occurred between them.

“This was caused by a family matter that was taken too far and into politics,” Cockayne said. “I’m saying this to make amends and for any wrongs that have been done and I hope we can put this behind us.”

The apology sparked comments from Brown, a Democrat, who said he didn’t see the need for personal matters to be brought up during council meetings. The councilor, who is the only current member not seeking re-election this November, continued to accuse the mayor of continuous “inappropriate behavior.”

“This pattern of your inability to separate the personal from the professional is embarrassing and I’m getting sick and tired of the damage it is causing the City of Bristol and its taxpayers,” Brown said during the meeting.

Following the sexual harassment investigation last year after a complaint was filed against Cockayne, Brown and Democratic councilor Mary Fortier discussed the topic during various council meetings. Each month, Fortier asks the city comptroller for an expense report of legal fees tied to the investigation because they continued to accrue months after the investigation was closed.

Now, word hit that a new instance of harassment took place in recent months. During the meeting last week, Brown asked personnel director Diane Ferguson if her office was made aware of another sexual harassment complaint involving the mayor in June 2017.

“Because of the complaints from a year ago and because of the Rose Report, this council should be kept apprised of all of those complaints,” Brown said, referring to Attorney Michael Rose’s investigation report. Last year, Rose conducted an investigation into claims of harassment—sexual, political, and personal—by the mayor and provided recommendations to the council moving forward. All city staff and officials had to complete training on harassment and civil rights matters, as deemed by Rose.

Ferguson told Brown that the only complaint brought to her attention in June was when Gagne brought the personal matter with Cockayne to Ferguson’s attention. During the meeting, Brown continued to assert that another incident happened.

“This is typical Democratic politics at its best,” the mayor said later in the week. “When you can’t campaign on the issues, you campaign on slander. Calvin showed what a bully he is at the council meeting. This is from a guy who lied to the voters during the last election, bought a house outside his district prior to the election and the charter revision ruled it incorrect. We had to make a new charter because of what Calvin did.”

Fortier told The Observer on Wednesday that in fact, nothing was filed regarding a sexual harassment claim, but Brown knew more information when he asked that question. Another incident of harassment was brought to the council’s attention.

“Many councilors found out through personal conversations,” said Fortier, explaining that because they were aware of it, they needed to discuss it whether or not it was documented in the personnel office.

In an interview Friday, Brown said, “I asked Miss Ferguson if her office received a complaint yes or no. Because she didn’t say either one of those things it became clear to me we needed to convene into executive session.”

Brown said, “Ferguson decided to mention Gagne by name regarding the personal matter, (and) never said yes or no.”

During the meeting, a motion was approved to convene in executive session without the mayor, but Fortier said it was stopped before it started. Corporate Counsel Ed Krawiecki informed city councilors that the mayor needs prior notice if a closed door session excluding him is scheduled, Fortier said.

The council was scheduled to hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 14 to discuss the harassment issue. Their agenda was to convene into executive session “to discuss a possible complaint or complaints regarding the mayor by city officials or city employees and consider potential recommendations or actions.”

Comments? Email jcardines@BristolObserver.com.