Report details evidence that led to mayor’s censure; mayor disputes facts of report

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Following Monday’s censure of the mayor on sexual harassment claims made by councilor Jodi Zils Gagne, the report prepared by Atty. Michael Rose was released to the public.

Mayor Ken Cockayne fired back, expressing regret his actions might have caused his family, colleagues and the city. However, he disputed the findings of the investigative report and the council’s authority to investigate him.

At a special meeting Oct. 16, after receiving a final report from Atty. Michael Rose about the harassment allegations involving Cockayne’s 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.”

In an edited version of the report released Thursday—removing information of a personal nature not pertinent to the conclusions—Rose wrote in his conclusion that “Mayor Cockayne has violated City Policy (regarding sexual harassment) as to the concerns raised by Zils Gagne and possibly violated the First Amendment rights of Steve Gagne (owner of internet radio station Bristol Beat and Zils Gagne’s husband). He retaliated against Gagne by showing compromising photographs, in retaliation for Gagne’s editorial decisions (at Bristol Beat) and seeking the council’s assistance in obtaining broadcast access (of council meetings for Bristol Beat).”

The First Amendment violation cited by Rose stemmed from Cockayne’s efforts to secure a “licensing fee” from Gagne to broadcast an audio feed from a public meeting on Bristol Beat.

The censure is the most serious action the council can take under the city charter.

However, the mayor, who is up for reelection on Nov. 7, does not seem ready to raise the white flag on the issue.

Within the Rose report, through his attorney, Cockayne questioned the authority of the council to investigate the claims of sexual harassment and to take action against him.

On Thursday afternoon, Cockayne issued a statement about the report through his attorney Peter A. Berdon.

“Mayor Cockayne expresses his regret for any distress his actions may have caused to his family, his colleagues in government, and to the people of Bristol. His conduct was not at all motivated by personal animus toward any person, but purely out of concern for the City of Bristol and its citizens…. Mayor Cockayne adamantly denies that he acted in any way that was in derogation of his duties as Mayor or in violation of any stated policy or law. Mayor Cockayne disputes, in the strongest terms, the conclusions of a recent report… which is riddled with factual inaccuracies, unfounded inferences, baseless conclusions of law, and is clearly punctuated with the personal biases of the investigator throughout. Never did Mayor Cockayne disclose any information of a personal, private or protected nature, or act with any intent to embarrass anyone. All statements and presentation of records made by Mayor Cockayne to Councilman Preleski were related only to information plainly placed in the public domain and he did so to protect the City of Bristol and its people from the poor judgment and self-interested action of certain involved parties. Mayor Cockayne intends to vigorously defend himself against any accusation to the contrary…. (He) will not allow himself to be distracted from his goals by the political mud-slinging…”

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 until the report was released.

The report explains that Cockayne showed compromising photos of Zils-Gagne, a Republican, to councilor David Preleski, a Democrat.

The lengthy collection of exhibits, 200-plus pages long, accompanying Rose’s report shows events that led to the harassment began to unfold when Gagne and his radio station asked for permission to broadcast the audio of the city council meetings, using the feed from Nutmeg TV, which current broadcasts them to cable subscribers. The report includes pages of text exchanges and emails about the feed of the council meetings.

Additionally, there are a multitude of text messages between Steve Gagne and Cockayne about the mayor appearing on Bristol Beat’s Sunday political talk show. Discussions went sour when an email from Beat employee Steve Savino intended for Gagne inadvertently was sent to the mayor. The email was a critical comment about the mayor’s reply that he had a prior commitment for one morning sought for the appearance. The mayor immediately withdrew his consideration of his appearance following Savino’s comment.

The exchanges in the texts between Savino and Cockayne included in the exhibit were heated and terse… and then later conciliatory.

The text messages also include numerous exchanges about family members of Cockayne and Zils Gagne, his second cousin, sharing information and photographs of a compromising nature of Zils Gagne and her husband.

At one point following a city council meeting in which Councilor David Preleski pressed for the Bristol Beat’s ability to broadcast the audio of the council meeting, which Rose’s report indicates Cockayne was reluctant to do, Cockayne showed Preleski photos of Zils Gagne and stated, “These are the people you are defending.”

The censure also comes after the dispute between Gagne and the mayor resulted in Gagne posting on Bristol Beat’s website that he and his wife were at “war” with the mayor. The censure also comes after a series of derogatory postcards about the mayor were sent through the mail to some residents and the press received several anonymous letters detailing allegations against the mayor.

According to the latest report issued Thursday by Rose, he was brought on to handle the case at the request of Zils Gagne, despite personnel director Ferguson’s suggestion that another attorney be brought in who was not involved with the previous investigation.