After learning last week that some city workers may have talked extensively with a city councilor while they were on the clock, Mayor Art Ward ordered an investigation to try to find the culprits.
The probe got nowhere, however, because city Councilor Ken Cockayne refused to provide any names.
Cockayne, a first-term Republican, said he spoke with a number of municipal workers months ago about their concerns surrounding contract concessions sought by the city and other issues.
“I don’t know how long the meetings lasted. Could have been 10 minutes, could have been two hours,” Cockayne said Wednesday. “I never felt at any time that anyone did something wrong.”
He said he felt “flabbergasted” when he learned that Ward was probing the talks to see if he could catch some of the workers who talked to Cockayne.
Ward said he heard last week that Cockayne told union leaders at a political endorsement meeting that the employees had to come to his office driving city vehicles during working hours.
The mayor said that after Cockayne refused to tell him whom he had met with, he asked city Personnel Director Diane Ferguson to investigate.
Ferguson said she called Cockayne.
“He didn’t have any information” that he would share, she said, “so that’s it.”
She closed the probe, Ward said, because she had no leads to pursue.
“I don’t understand why there’s an investigation,” Cockayne said.
Ward said Cockayne and the workers who talked to him had bypassed a “procedure that needs to be respected” for negotiations between the city and its workforce.
He said every councilor has short conversations with city employees at times. There’s nothing wrong with that, Ward said.
But in this case Cockayne went too far, the mayor said.
Ward said the councilor “should have moved in a direction that would have avoided prolonged conversations” during a ticklish time when the city was trying to convince unions to agree to take less than contracts had called for.
Cockayne said many of the concerns he heard were from rank-and-file workers who weren’t happy with union leaders.
“The people who came to me did so in confidence and I will not betray their trust,” Cockayne said.
He said he never asked if someone was on break or personal time when they came to speak with him.
“I’m here to serve my constituents and anyone who wants to talk to me at any time knows how to get a hold of me,” Cockayne said. “I try to make myself available day, night, afternoon, anytime. I do my best.”
He said he thinks the root of the problem is that municipal union leaders are upset that employees reached out to him.
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