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Ex-Ferris top cops compensated

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The Ellis County Press

FERRIS - Former Ferris Police Chief Jeff Cottongame and Lt. Sherman Swafford have received their final paychecks from the City of Ferris.

Cottongame was paid about $10,000 while Swafford received about $4,000, city officials said.

Swafford later returned his check to the city because he said it was missing other money owed to him, officials said.

Ferris Mayor Jimmie Birdwell said the former officers were getting a check for vacation, comp and holiday pay they earned before they were terminated.

'By (federal) law you have to pay them for the time they have due,' Birdwell said. 'It's clearly in black and white what you have to pay them.'

Last updated in May 1986, Ferris personnel policy manual it states employees with more than 15 years of full-time service are entitled to 20 paid days of vacation a year.

Cottongame's check included his vacation for this year and a portion of last year's vacation time.

The city's personnel policy states 'vacation time may not be accumulated or carried forward and any vacation time not used within the 12-month period it is earned is forfeitured,' but Birdwell acknowledged he allowed Cottongame to carry over some vacation hours from the previous fiscal year.

The City of Ferris pays its employees for 10 holidays per year - New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

City workers required to work on designated holidays should be paid for an extra day's work or be given a comp day, according to the policy.

'In no case shall a substitute holiday be carried forward more than 12 months,' the handbook states.

Councilman Jessie Hern-andez said he had no problem paying Cottongame for what the city owed him, but said it was hard to determine how much comp time if any Cottongame is due because he did not have a set number of hours he worked each day.

'I don't believe a head of a department should be available for comp time,' the councilman said.

'Department heads are paid salary and are on-call 24 hours a day.'

The city's policy states, 'compensatory time may be given to the employee instead of pay if approved by the department head. Only time reflected on the employee's record should be allowed.'

Many police officers throughout the state work off-duty security jobs to supplement their income.

City policies state employees are not allowed to work off-duty employment, when it could pose a 'conflict of interest' or affect the worker's performance concerning his city duties and must be approved by the mayor before such positions can be held.

The Texas Commission on Private Security allows police officers to work off-duty security jobs when they are paid directly from the company and if they work at least 32 hours a week as a peace officer.

Despite an appeal hearing asking for their jobs back and proclaiming their innocence on Dec. 9 the city council upheld the termination of the two former Ferris officers.

The hearing focused on three accounts operated by the Ferris Police Department- reserves, drug and project.

All the accounts had the city's tax identification number on it.

The former Ferris top cops said they did not know how the tax id numbers appeared on the accounts.

Swafford admitted he had opened the Ferris Project Account after consulting with Cottongame to hold money from a fundraiser held in the spring of 2001.

Swafford said bank employees informed him the best way to keep the fundraising money separate from other accounts was to set up a new account for the fundraiser.

Money from the golf tournament fundraiser, held at the Old Brickyard Golf Course, was supposed to be used to purchase cardiovascular equipment at the Ferris Police Department Gym on Sixth Street, located next to the Senior Citizen's Center.

Robert Hager, a Dallas attorney providing legal counsel for the city, asked why checks from the Ferris Reserve Account had been used to purchase $700 in new tires for the squad cars, $138 in dog food for the department's narcotics dog and give a $1,000 loan to a police department employee.

Hager said there was no record of the loan ever being paid back to the department.

Swafford said the reserve officers would use money in the reserve account to buy things for the regular officers.

Hager asked why records were thrown away when the police department was remodeled earlier this year.

Swafford said documents that he and Cottongame thought were no longer needed were thrown away after the remodel.

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