ENCINITAS — City Manager Phil Cotton is retiring. In an e-mail that came as a surprise to many, the city’s top manager informed the mayor and City Council on May 24 that July 6 will be his last day.
“On the seventh I’m one of those old retired guys,” Cotton said. The 61-year-old has spent a dozen years working for the city in different capacities. “I’ve moved around the building for over a decade,” he said.
He began his tenure in 1998 as a Parks and Beach superintendent, then in the Parks and Recreation department. Cotton eventually worked his way to the director of Public Works post. He was hired as the city manager in October 2006.
After just six months on the job, City Manager Phil Cotton received a 20 percent raise in his base salary despite objections from some council members and residents. City Council narrowly approved the pay raise in a 3-2 vote. Councilwomen Maggie Houlihan and Teresa Barth opposed the motion to accept a subcommittee’s recommendation to increase the city manager’s base salary by $33,723 — from $165,000 to $198,723.
Cotton said the timing of his resignation was calculated. “I’ve been thinking about it (resigning) lately but I wanted to focus on the second year of our budget,” he said. “That’s why I gave them the resignation when I did.”
Despite high performance praise, City Council did not approve a proposal for an 11 percent raise for Cotton this year. An increase of the proposed $21,859 in base salary would have brought Cotton’s total compensation to $242,640.
Mayor Dan Dalager gave Cotton high marks in his job performance. “I’ve been around for every city manager and I’ve got to say that Phil’s the best one this city’s ever had,” he said. “He’s kept us on a zero-based budget, basically making sure that every department accounts for ever penny it spends.”
Cotton’s abrupt departure will leave little time to fill the job with a new candidate. Dalager said that while the council should begin the recruitment process soon, the final decision should be made after the November election.
“I would think the decision should be made by the new council just in case it’s different,” he said. Both Dalager and Councilwoman Teresa Barth are up for re-election.
Cotton said he anticipated the transition would go smoothly for the city in his absence. “In my mind the city is in a good position with good department heads and staff. In reality, they really carry the load,” he said. “I’m available if they want to ask for my recommendation (for a new city manager). I would give it to them.”
Despite the political scuffles on the council, Cotton said he’s satisfied with the delineation of power within the city government. “I’ve had enough experiences to learn that we all work at different levels, you do your homework and don’t be afraid to tell people what they need to hear not what they want to hear,” he said.
“We’ve been fortunate that everyone understands their role. They (the council) have let me be the city manager and they’ve been the policymakers,” Cotton said.