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Less ‘Protest Wagon,’ More Law Suits

By Pam Johnson

Publication: Shore Publishing

Published December 03. 2012 4:00AM   Updated December 04. 2012 3:50PM
Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound
In the wake of recently filing lawsuits against First Selectman Unk DaRos and Town Assessor Barbara Neal, Branford citizen Wayne Cooke has announced his "protest wagon," a downtown staple for the past two years, will no longer be seen parked outside of Town Hall.
First Selectman, Assessor Sued by Cooke

On Nov. 14, Branford citizen Wayne Cooke filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations against him by First Selectman Anthony "Unk" DaRos and Assessor Barbara Neal and filed a separate slander suit in state court against DaRos.

With that, Cooke announced last week he'll be retiring the "protest wagon" that he's parked outside of Town Hall most days for two years. Cooke also said he's dialing back some of his others forms of protest, too.

"What we're looking to do is let the court system take its course," Cooke told The Sound. "I probably won't be as visible at meetings as I was in the past, and I won't be writing so many letters."

Reached by The Sound with news that the protest wagon would no longer be parked in front of Town Hall and that Cooke planned to attend fewer meetings, DaRos had very little comment on the matter.

"I really don't care, and he can do what he wants and whatever he needs to do," said DaRos.

For the past few years, Cooke has often been an outspoken critic of the DaRos administration at town meetings. He's also produced voluminous letters, documents, and posters, often directed toward elected and appointed town officials concerning town issues and practices.

"It's clear to everyone the majority party of the RTM went out of its way to silence me and other citizens. Even that avenue was taken away," said Cooke.

Recent RTM procedure changes have ranged from limiting each citizen's input to three minutes (if needed); reversing a policy introduced by Cooke that recognized a citizen's ability to submit a petition signed by 50 residents to send the petition item to committee; and a decorum resolution requiring the RTM chair and committee chairs to take immediate legal action if they feel a citizen is acting in a way that's impeding the meeting.

Cooke added that any continued questions of his directed to DaRos at future meetings would likely remain unanswered.

"First of all, he hasn't answered my questions in four years. Do you think that he will be more inclined to now that there's a lawsuit?" said Cooke.

Cooke has sued the town in the past and in April 28, 2010 filed an application for relief from excessive tax valuation against the Town of Branford, Office of the Tax Assessor, and Assessment Board of Appeals. On Oct. 11, a New Haven Superior Court decision supported the town in the matter (view a copy of the decision at www.zip06.com/branford).

The federal lawsuit against DaRos and Neal alleges 1st and 14th Amendment civil rights violations and deprivation of civil rights, under Section 1983 of the United States Code. In addition, Cooke filed a separate suit in state court against DaRos for slander. Cooke is being represented by the Marcus Law Firm of North Branford. News of the suits, together with copies, was posted at www.zip06.com/branford, where the suits can still be viewed.

A press release issued on Nov. 28 on Cooke's behalf gives the following explanation of the suits: "Cooke's complaint alleges that after he publicly criticized DaRos's 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's friends and political supporters?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."

"The complaint is pretty clear," Cooke told The Sound. "It's not just our allegations and time line. You see a pattern here."

With regard to the allegations, DaRos said of Cooke, "He created a vendetta, and he's got people believing there's a vendetta. I did nothing to that man, and as far as him suing me, that will all come out in the wash."

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