Every city employee's nightmare came true March 11 for Richmond County motor vehicle director Nancy Mims.
She had learned a few months earlier from Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick that his department was headed for a reorganization, as many city departments were, and that positions were likely to be eliminated.
When the time arrived, though, Mims was shocked to learn she was the only one let go. She was even more surprised when, during a round of promotions associated with the reorganization, her younger successor, Takiyah Douse, was given a hefty raise.
Mims has since filed a complaint alleging age and race discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Office and is awaiting an answer that might determine her next move, she said. She is white; Kendrick is black.
"Mrs. Douse is now making right at $68,000; I left making $59,000," Mims said.
That is true, according to a recent study of Augusta salary data revealing that nearly all employees are enduring a second year of unfilled vacancies, furlough-based pay reductions and raise freezes in addition to the reorganization that has prompted many to retire.
Though a handful of sheriff's office, recreation and utilities employees have been promoted into vacant positions and given raises, Kendrick's staff of 44 saw seven promoted from March to July; the largest raise went to administrative assistant Sharon Kendrick, whose promotion to financial analyst carried $15,000-plus.
Mims said she had been given an opportunity to interview for a new director's position that seemed tailor-made for Douse, who has an MBA, but was offered no other alternatives.
"(Steven Kendrick) could have put me in the back somewhere," she said. "I'm 57 years old. At this stage in my life, it's hard to find another job."
First elected in 2009, Kendrick has another version of events he said stem from his inheritance of a dysfunctionally structured department.
By studying tax commission offices of similar size around the state, Kendrick said, he determined that his needed three "directors," the equivalent of department heads, and made Douse the motor vehicle director. The others are property tax director Sharon Kendrick, who married a cousin of Steven Kendrick, and new finance director Ryan Barbin, who saw an $8,000 salary bump.
Unlike Mims, Kendrick said, the three directors have college degrees.
"The city has a requirement that (those) at the director level have college degrees," he said.
Total salaries paid through his office haven't gone down, but Kendrick said the new structure has increased tax collections.
"We can show where there's savings," he said. "We improved our mobile home collections, too."
Other improvements include a Douse initiative to enforce the law against people who let their vehicle registration lapse and avoid paying car taxes, he said.
"I inherited a lot of things that needed to be worked on," he said. "I had to have good, aggressive, assertive people."
City Administrator Fred Russell, the architect of the reorganization, which has struck fear among departments under his or the Augusta Commission's control, said Kendrick was the only department headed by an elected official he knew to have laid off a worker. Mims was provided the same reduction-in-force agreement other downsized workers have received; she did not sign it.
Mims' feelings echo the concerns that Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett, who opposes the reorganization, has raised about longtime employees being put out of work without having an opportunity to transfer.
Mims said being unemployed is tough on her, because she now relies on her grown son for financial support since she's three years short of receiving full payment from the retirement plan she paid into for many years.
"I'm here living off my son now; it just boils me," she said. "It's not like I was at retirement age and just hanging on; I was actually an active worker."