ENCINITAS — Despite simmering public outrage over compensation for the city’s top executive, City Council approved an extension for the interim city manager’s contract at a special session Feb. 1.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth suggested the council allow Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips to take over the reigns until a permanent city manager is hired. “I don’t think we would be leaving the city as a rudderless ship if we just terminated the contract,” she said. Despite her suggestions, the council voted 3-1 to extend Cotton’s contract with minor modifications.
The meeting occurred just one day before Phil Cotton’s contract was set to expire. The current contract runs through June 30.
After a closed session to evaluate Cotton’s performance, the council opened a public meeting to discuss its conclusion and whether Cotton should be retained on a temporary basis. The council deemed Cotton’s performance “satisfactory” with a 3-1 vote. Barth was the lone opposition vote with Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan absent.
In a statement read into the record by the city clerk before the meeting, Houlihan said that the contract decision should have occurred at a regular council session and expressed “dismay” that all of the council members’ schedules weren’t checked before the meeting time was set to ensure that everyone could be present for the important discussion.
City Council voted June 23, 2010, to offer departing City Manager Phil Cotton a temporary contract as interim city manager. In late May, Cotton, 61, submitted his resignation, saying he was ready to retire after 12 years with the city. His last day was scheduled to be July 6.
Cotton took several weeks off after his scheduled retirement date but returned as interim manager in early August to resume his duties as outlined in a new contract.
The council offered Cotton a three-month, temporary contract with three, one-month extensions. All three contract extensions were activated and required another vote by the council to extend the contract. The council is expected to announce a new city permanent city manager this summer.
Cotton’s contract has been the subject of much debate lately. According to the terms of Cotton’s contract, he receives $15,000 per month in equal increments at the same time as other employees. The temporary interim manager’s contract does not include any pension payments, health care insurance or vacation accrual, or other items that Cotton had under his previous contract as city manager.
However, during November and December of 2010, Cotton was out of the office for approximately three weeks. His contract stipulated that he could take “reasonable” time off.
The amount of time that is “reasonable” is not defined in the current contract that was negotiated by City Attorney Glenn Sabine. Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks addressed the issue during the meeting before voting to extend Cotton’s new contract. “We have a conflict over the interpretation of reasonable time off,” he said. A majority of the council agreed to restrict the time Cotton can be away from the office, but still available for work to two days per month. “I really don’t punch Phil in,” Mayor Jim Bond said, referring to how Cotton’s work hours are calculated. Stocks suggested that Cotton confer with the mayor prior to taking a day off and notify the entire council once a decision was reached.
The council also publicly discussed the additional paycheck Cotton received in 2009. Sabine said he directed the human resources staff to pay Cotton $8,331 when it was brought to his attention that the year equated to 27 pay periods rather than 26.
Sabine told the council that he did not anticipate the situation when he drafted Cotton’s salary contract that specified the then city manager be paid $198,723 for 52 weeks. The additional pay increases Cotton’s pension amount as well since the calculation is based on the highest amount made during employment tenure.
Residents continued to raise questions about Cotton’s additional pay and the compensated time off. Andrew Audet and Bob Bonde both asked the council to explain what they considered obvious breaches of its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.