Council censures mayor again after allegations of harassment; edited report scheduled for Thursday release

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

For the second time this year, the city council has censured Mayor Ken Cockayne as a result of allegations of sexual harassment.

At a special meeting on Monday night, after receiving a final report from Atty. Michael Rose about the harassment allegations—which involved his second cousin City Councilor Jodi Zils Gagne—the council approved a motion that stated that given the Rose report and its detailed findings they would “censure Mayor Kenneth B. Cockayne for violation of the city’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment and for dishonesty in responding to the inquiry; To censure Mayor Kenneth B. Cockayne for retaliatory acts based on perceived political disloyalty;  To refer the finding to the city’s Board of Ethics for further review; To release a redacted copy of Attorney Rose’s report, having concluded that the report contains certain personal information, the disclosure of which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and that such personal information is not of legitimate concern to the public, consistent with the Freedom of Information laws.”

The report will be made available through the city clerk’s office as of Thursday.

Acting mayor Anthony D’Amato said Tuesday morning, “To my knowledge, the council will not take any further action in this particular matter as the resolution speaks for itself.”

Following the vote to censure him, Cockayne was asked if he would like to make a comment: “I’d love to however I have not seen the report so can’t comment.”

Cockayne’s Democratic opponent for mayor on Nov. 7, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu also was asked to make a comment. “I am going to decline to comment. I think the facts speak for themselves.”

At a special meeting August, the council voted to bring in Rose to investigate an incident between the mayor and Councilor Zils-Gagne.

The inquiry was initiated following a public apology Cockayne made to Councilor Zils Gagne in the midst of the August city council meeting. Following the mayor’s apology, Councilor Calvin Brown asked what necessitated the public comment and inferred it might be tied to another claim of sexual harassment. Following Brown’s query, personnel director Diane Ferguson cited Zils Gagne as having complained about sexual harassment.

Other than the slip by the personnel director, officially, nothing had been said on the part of the council, Councilor Zils Gagne, or Cockayne as to what form the harassment came in. The latest report from Rose is likely to shed some light on what happened that the council felt was serious enough to warrant a censure.

Earlier in the year, Rose was called into investigate another case of harassment regarding the mayor. Rose, in the subsequent report, said he did not think sexual harassment between the mayor and an unnamed employee occurred “per se.” The report also investigated an incident where the mayor harassed corporate counsel Richard Lacey.

After the release of more explicit details from the report were provided to the council (which were not provided to the public and were not released following Freedom of Information requests), the entire council censured Cockayne based on those details. Cockayne subsequently issued a public apology regarding the findings of the Rose report.

A few months later, Noella Bates, the unnamed employee in Rose’s report, stepped forward and filed a civil suit—now in federal court– against the mayor and several city employees.

The suit filed by Bates claims that since April 2011, the city worker has been “repeatedly subjected to a sexually hostile and discriminatory working environment.”

In particular, the suit claims Cockayne made sexual advances, requested favors, engaged in conduct of a sexual nature toward the plaintiff, and sexually harassed Bates.

After the suit was filed, Cockayne issued a statement refuting the claims made by Bates.