Fred Cecere, a retired Army surgeon, won a write-in campaign in May to unseat longtime town of Chevy Chase council member Pat Burda. (ASTRID RIECKEN/For The Washington Post)

So what did town of Chevy Chase Mayor Al Lang and Vice Mayor John Bickerman know — and when did they know it?

That’s the tone and substance of a report issued this week by a panel tasked with investigating a “stealth” write-in campaign, in which undeclared candidate Fred Cecere unseated longtime Town Council member Pat Burda in May by 49 votes, 168 to 119.

Supporters of Cecere, a retired Army surgeon, say the write-in effort and Burda’s defeat reflected some residents’ long-simmering unhappiness over town finances and regulations regarded as burdensome.

The 30-page document does not accuse Lang or Bickerman of breaking any law regarding the election, which threw the wealthy Montgomery County town of 2,800 into a full-blown swivet.

But the report concluded, based on unnamed sources, that both men knew about Cecere’s under-the-radar candidacy and kept it quiet.

Their silence breached the public trust, the joint panel of town Election Board and Ethics Commission members concluded, and led to misleading announcements by the town that the council race was uncontested.

Both Lang and Bickerman have denied any wrongdoing.

Lang said he hasn’t read the report yet but plans to before the council takes it up at Wednesday’s meeting. He also maintained that whatever he said or didn’t say in the run-up to the election is his business, not the town’s: “I actually think that freedom of speech is fairly well-protected in this country.”

Bickerman said he learned that Cecere was the subject of a write-in campaign shortly before the election and spoke to him once, urging him to file a financial disclosure form.

“I would argue that the Constitution’s pretty clear on allowing and ensuring the right of free association,” he said. “What I did is irrelevant.”

The real breach of trust, Bickerman argued, was the Election Board’s initial refusal to certify the results because of questions about the write-in vote.

The Town Council commissioned the probe in response to an outcry that followed the election, including the delay in certifying the results, the hiring of attorneys and a request for a ruling by the Ethics Commission as to whether write-in candidates must file financial disclosure forms (the panel opined that town law is unclear).

The joint panel sought information from Lang and Bickerman, but they declined to answer. That decision did nothing to endear them to panel members, who recommend in the report that the five-member Town Council — which includes the mayor and vice mayor — “consider whether responses should be compelled through legal process or other means.”

The report also said Lang and Bickerman should be “reminded” to preserve all relevant records, both paper and electronic.