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Cotton not violating Hatch Act

COVINGTON - Police Chief Stacey Cotton assured the Covington City Council Monday night that he is acting in accordance with the law and is not campaigning on city time in his bid for Newton County Sheriff.

The city recently received an anonymous letter questioning whether Cotton's campaign is in violation of the federal Hatch Act, according to City Manager Steve Horton.

The act applies to state and local employees who are employed in connection with programs financed in whole or part by loans or grants made by the federal government and prohibits candidacy in partisan elections.

Horton said the city had only one active law enforcement grant in place this year. The grant, used to fund the East Metro Drug Enforcement Team, which disbanded earlier this year, was put in closed out status in May, he said, with the last distribution going out in August.

"The grant was on its way out, and we weren't taking any action to reapply," Horton said.

After someone approached Cotton prior to Thanksgiving regarding the Hatch Act, Cotton contacted the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to inquire whether he was in violation, Horton said.

A representative from the office contacted the city to verify the status of the grant, and it was determined that there was no violation, he said.

A spokesperson for the office could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"If anybody has got any verification or proof they can show us different, bring it up and show us, but otherwise, it seems that he and the city both are clear in this issue," Horton said.

Horton said there was also a question about a city employee who was working on Cotton's campaign committee.

Under city ordinance, employees cannot participate in campaigns for city elections, Horton said, but otherwise, the city cannot prohibit those activities. Employees are not allowed to act as agents for the city during campaigning, however, he said.

Horton said he had talked with Cotton about the campaign and, "I have his assurance he's not doing any campaigning while on city time."

Cotton told the council he has purchased his own cell phone, which he is using for campaign-related matters.

"I've worked my entire career as police chief for the last 10 years to uphold the image of this city and do that as aboveboard and ethical as possible ... You have my personal word that I won't do anything to embarrass the city," he said.

In other business, the council reappointed Cotton as Covington Police Department chief for another year.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.