Mason says Russell must go

Long at odds with City Administrator Fred Russell over the ongoing reorganization of city government, Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason on Wednesday called for Russell's resignation.

 

"I think it's about time for Mr. Russell to start looking for other employment opportunities that best fit his skill set, whatever that may be," Mason said.

The former mayor pro tem said it was "the culmination of a number of things," including Russell's unwillingness to provide cost-savings data and analysis on the reorganization's financial impact, that prompted him to make the call.

"In terms of savings, I'm getting the feeling we're spending more than we're saving," Mason said.

The announcement comes on the heels of the revelation that Russell last week authorized 44 raises for city employees involved in the reorganization, far more than just the four department heads he acknowledged on Monday were given 15 percent pay hikes.

A spreadsheet of the changes, acquired Wednesday by The Augusta Chronicle from Augusta's Human Resources Department, shows that in addition to the four department heads, 12 employees in Finance, 10 in Recreation, Parks and Facilities, 11 in Engineering, six in Environmental Services and one in Administration last week were authorized for pay increases, retroactive to May 2.

Authorization for all the changes arrived at Human Resources late last week, but it has taken time for the department to get them entered into the system, Human Resources Manager Robby Burns said.

Russell stood by the raises as all within the 15 percent pay increases he's authorized to make without commission approval.

"I have not talked to Mr. Mason about the status of my head or anything," Russell said. "These jobs are always precarious. I've done what was within the authority they gave me, at least six of them."

Those six to which Russell refers are the six commissioners who voted in favor of the reorganization, and in favor of the city's new personnel manual that gives the administrator authority to grant pay increases of up to 15 percent without commission approval.

Three of them -- Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Wayne Guilfoyle and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles -- gave depositions Wednesday to lawyers involved in a suit filed by The Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta alleging that the reorganization plan and changes in Russell's authority were illegal under the city charter. The plaintiffs allege that reorganization required eight votes, or two-thirds majority, not six, a simple majority, because it constituted a change to the city charter.

Plaintiffs Barbara Gordon and the Rev. K.B. Martin attended the depositions in an Augusta Law Department boardroom as The Baptist Ministers' attorney, Serena Sparks, and Augusta General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie posed questions about the reorganization to the three commissioners. Brigham said his deposition lasted 2 1/2 hours.

"They were just reaching out, trying to find facts. All we could do was tell them the truth," Guilfoyle said after his hour-long deposition.

Guilfoyle said he was not calling for Russell's resignation, but that several on the commission were shocked to learn of the raises.

"As far as me going to fire Fred, no, I've got to hear his reasoning," Guilfoyle said.

Guilfoyle said he suspected that he, Bowles and Brigham were selected to be deposed because they were responsible for making a motion to add the word "exclusive" to a description in the personnel manual of Russell's authority to recommend candidates for jobs as Augusta department heads.

Mason would have at least one vote of support in an action to get rid of Russell, from Commissioner Bill Lockett, who learned of Mason's comments from a reporter.

"When this government was consolidated, the people that voted for consolidation indicated they did not want an un-elected administrator to have the authority that has been given by six commissioners to Mr. Russell," Lockett said.

That such authority might lead to an abuse of power is evident in the raises, and Russell's unwillingness to provide information about the city's financial picture and possible savings from the reorganization, Lockett said.

"I'm extremely disappointed, and I would expect more from an administrator," he said.

Russell, who joined city government in 2002 as a deputy administrator, added that he'd done the job "to the best of my ability" and that Augusta had "a fine list of accomplishments" under his watch.

He said the raises given to 44 of the city's 2,700 employees totaled about $350,000 annually, but that's less than the salaries and benefits paid to manager positions eliminated in the reorganized government.

Russell said he hadn't suggested increasing his own salary, which is $136,359, but subject it to this year's 1.88 percent furlough salary reduction for all personnel.

"If six of them thought I ought to make more money, then I wouldn't take it. My duties haven't changed. I still get to manage the circus," Russell said.

Database: Augusta-Richmond County Employee Raises
Database: Augusta-Richmond County Employee Salaries
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