Augusta Commission to discuss raises, Russell

Augusta Commission members will examine the possibility of taking back the retroactive pay increases awarded to 44 city employees by City Administrator Fred Russell as they consider whether to keep Russell employed during a meeting at 5 p.m. today.

Last week, the 44 employees’ paychecks included not just their new salary amount, but also the amount they would have earned had the raises gone into effect May 2, according to Human Resources Director Rod Powell.

The raises infuriated several commissioners, who called for Russell’s job upon learning about the pay increases last week.

“I do know what has been done is illegal,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said of the retroactive pay increases. “If general counsel found a way around that, I don’t know. I expect to find out tomorrow.”

Lockett, who joined Commissioner Alvin Mason in demanding Russell’s job last week, said he received numerous phone calls and e-mails from constituents outraged by the increases that Russell approved.

“I’m disappointed with his performance, and especially disappointed that the only people they feel are relevant are those that are close to him,” Lockett said.

The pay increases – some as much as 15 per­cent affected 12 employees in the city’s Engineering De­partment; 14 in Finance; seven in En­vironmental Services; 11 in Rec­reation, Parks and Facilities; one in Administration; and one in Utilities, and included raises for four department heads.

Russell has said that each department head negotiated the pay increases with him and that all were associated with the ongoing government restructuring previously approved by the commission.

“That’s what they were promised when they took over the new jobs,” Powell said. “They went into the job and started doing the work and weren’t being compensated.”

Russell offered little comment about whether he would remain employed after today’s meeting. Mayor Deke Copenhaver has requested a 4 p.m. legal meeting to discuss “personnel,” and Mason has placed a discussion on the rationale and methodology used for the pay increases on the agenda.

“I think I’ve got a lot to continue to offer the community,” Russell said.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said he expected the commission to evaluate each of the 44 employees given raises to determine whether the raises were warranted, and that his decision on Russell’s future hinged on showing actual savings from the reorganization plan.

“We’ve seen the increases; it’s just time to see the savings,” Bowles said. “We’re going to have to get something very, very soon because this hurrying up and waiting is getting old for a lot of us.”

Commissioner Matt Aitken said the raises remain a “morale killer” but said he hadn’t decided about Russell.

“It seems like our city, we’ve stalled, and I don’t know the real reason why we’ve stalled our progress. Is it the commission, the administrator? I’m still trying to sort some of this out.”