Amid reports that he deleted a substantial number of files from his work computer and city servers before his termination took effect Jan. 1, former Augusta Administrator Fred Russell took his name out of the running for mayor Tuesday.
In what was expected to be his official election announcement, Russell revealed on a WKSP-FM (96.3) morning broadcast that he would not be joining the race to become Augusta’s next mayor.
Russell, who has not returned messages seeking comment, has said little about why he was backing out of the May 20 election.
“He feels that was the best thing for Augusta, for him not to run,” said his campaign chairman, businessman Duncan Johnson. “I am proud that he chose what he thought was best for Augusta.”
Johnson, the president of Johnson Motor Co., said last week that because of Russell’s dozen years in city government, he was Augusta’s best hope for a mayor who could lead the city through growth expected
from Georgia Regents University and the incoming Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon.
He declined to comment further about Russell’s decision not to run.
The Augusta Commission voted 7-0 on Dec. 9 to end Russell’s 10-year stint as administrator, citing the need for a change in direction but no criminal wrongdoing. He received a severance package of six months’ salary and benefits when the firing became effective Jan. 1.
On the eve of Russell’s announcement Tuesday, one of his harshest critics alleged that Russell – with help from city staff – had deleted numerous e-mails, documents and other correspondence from his work computer and even city servers, where e-mails are stored, before his last day Dec. 31.
Commissioner Marion Williams, who fought with his colleagues to get access to Russell’s hard drive, said Monday that the city law department’s response late last week to his request for five years’ worth of records resulted in only a small stack of paper and no correspondence with the mayor, finance department or city attorney, and only “conversations between a couple of people,” despite laws that require local governments to keep digital and paper documents for a certain length of time, depending on their content.
After a lengthy session behind closed doors Tuesday in which longtime IT Director Tameka Allen, now the interim administrator, provided logs and other details about who had access to the files, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson and Commissioner Donnie Smith said they had reason to believe a Monday report on WRDW that Russell had told a TV reporter he had deleted the files himself, even those stored on city servers, with no assistance from city staff.
“She gave reasons why nobody could have done it or could have assisted with it,” Smith said.
Williams said Allen reported that the department “did not understand” why the files would be missing, because they got them from General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, who obtained them from the system at the time Williams first made his request.
Williams, who has never specified why he wanted the files, said he was seeking no personal information about Russell, only “government connections and stuff that could have been done.”
He said he was surprised Russell withdrew from the mayor’s race Tuesday.
“I was hoping he was going to run,” Williams said.
While the files might have been deleted, it’s unlikely they’re gone forever and Allen said the IT department is using various techniques to retrieve them, Smith said.
As long as the search requires no additional funds, Smith said he was OK with city staff attempting to unearth them, although without knowing what is missing, it is difficult to know whether laws were broken or civil penalties might apply, he said.
Smith, who was absent the day the commission fired Russell, said the incident might have been avoided if the commission hadn’t given Russell several weeks to remain on the job afterward.