In the wake of a federal lawsuit filed against Branford First Selectman Anthony DaRos and Assessor Barbara Neal, and a slander suit filed personally against DaRos, Wayne Cooke has announced he will no longer be parking his protest trailer in front of Branford Town Hall.
Cooke is suing DaRos and Neal for First and Fourteenth Amendment civil rights violations and deprivation of civil rights under Section 1983 of the United States Code.
Cooke’s complaint alleges that after he publicly criticized DaRos’ development policies and manipulation of zoning at Exit 56 and at Tabor Drive, DaRos retaliated against him by having the farm tax status revoked from Cooke’s property. The revocation resulted in a tax increase from $17,000 to $85,000 per year.
In addition, Cooke’s complaint maintains that DaRos continued his retaliation by abusing the authority of his office to steer prospective developers away from Cooke’s property onto nearby parcels owned by DaRos’ friends and political supporters.
The federal lawsuit seeks a trial by jury; money damages, including punitive damages; cost and attorneys fees; and such other relief as the court may deem just and equitable.
A separate suit, filed by Cooke in Connecticut Superior Court, personally charges DaRos for slander in publicly accusing Cooke of trying to bribe him in 2006 by sending a developer to ask DaRos about Stony Creek granite. At the time, DaRos was working as a stonemason and not serving as first selectman or in any other public office.
Cooke is represented by the Marcus Law Firm, who once represented the town in the Tabor lawsuit, and is currently being sued by the town for alleged malpractice in that case.
The well-known protest trailer, which Cooke has paraded along the shoreline and regularly parked on Town Hall Drive for over two years, plays patriotic music and states in bold red lettering: “BRANFORD TOWN HALL; HOME OF ABUSE OF POWER AND DISHONESTY--CT SUPREME COURT”.
The Supreme Court reference relates to the 2010 Connecticut Supreme Court decision calling the DaRos administration "dishonest" and upholding a lower court's findings of abuse of power, acting in bad faith, and civil rights violations by the DaRos administration in the Tabor Drive eminent domain case.
In addition to removing the trailer, Cooke intends to attend fewer of the various town meetings he has attended regularly for five years.
In commenting on the lawsuits and his decision to attend fewer meetings and remove the trailer, Cooke states:
“My family has pursued every avenue for fair treatment our local government is supposed to offer, but ultimately the dishonesty and vindictive retaliation by the first selectman and assessor left us no remedy but the legal system.”
“In terms of my participation at future meetings, I'll certainly stay involved. but just be more selective as to the meetings I attend.”
“However, given that the Democratic majority on the RTM has broken every rule in the Town Code to silence me, and DaRos hasn’t answered any of my questions in over four years, I hardly think things will improve now that we have filed a lawsuit.”
“As for the trailer, it has done its job, but things are at a new level and with a new focus. The courts will now decide the outcome.”
Regarding how his lawsuit reflects upon the general situation in Branford, Cooke states:
"It has become glaringly obvious to the community that the foremost agenda of the DaRos administration is to ignore and retaliate against anyone questioning its policies.”
“Whether it be dismissing citizen concerns over forcing public works onto Tabor, repeatedly lying to the residents of Cedar Street about Founder's Village, or removing Jennifer Aniskovich from the Board of Finance, DaRos and his followers care nothing of what others think, only about increasing their own power and control.”