Interim city manager takes paid vacation despite contract terms

ENCINITAS — The interim city manager was absent for three weeks over two months in November and December despite the fact that his contract does not allow for paid vacation time.
City Council voted June 23 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 the council is expected to announce a new city permanent city manager this month.
According to the terms of Cotton’s contract, he receives $15,000 per month. 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, according to an e-mail sent from Cotton to some city staff and the council, he took one week off during November. On Oct. 28 at 4:50 p.m. he sent an e-mail stating in part, “I will be out of the office next week (Nov 1st through 5th). During my absence Larry Watt will be acting in my capacity and our Deputy City Manager, Richard Phillips will be handling the daily business of the City Managers Office.”
City Hall was closed the following day. According to Tom Beckord, the city’s human resources director, Cotton has received the same amount of pay on a bi-weekly basis despite being out of the office.
On Dec. 20, at 6:30 p.m., Cotton sent a similar e-mail stating that he would be out of the office from Dec. 21 through Dec. 31, a day City Hall was closed. His e-mail read in part, “I will be available via phone, or e-mail. The Deputy City Manager will be available at City Hall, and all Departments have coverage throughout the Holiday period.” He did not state where he was going or the purpose of his absence in either case. Calls to Cotton were not returned.
According to city officials, there is no mechanism in place to approve vacation time or sick leave requests for the city manager, or the interim city manager. Beckford said that Cotton’s current contract “doesn’t provide for particular vacation time, but it gives him a 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. Calls to Sabine were also not returned.
Cotton is officially retired from his former post where he received $198,720 a year as city manager. After July 6, he became eligible to receive a pension. Cotton already receives a military pension for his 21 years in the Marines.


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