Fired City Administrator Fred Russell wants to be the next mayor of Augusta. He’s just not ready to say so.
After losing his office in the Marble Palace on New Year’s Eve by an unexpected 7-0 commission vote two weeks before Christmas, Russell set up shop on Broad Street, where he’s been seen smiling (for the first time in 12 years) and shaking hands with folks before entering and leaving his new office at the Coffee Break Café.
A table there isn’t nearly as impressive as his former desk, and the telephone doesn’t ring like it used to, but the folks he’s been meeting with – local politicians, businessmen and church leaders – don’t insult him and his staff just to get a little face time on TV. Besides, the coffee’s better.
Some folks say Russell shouldn’t run for mayor because it would be awkward trying to work with the commissioners who fired him. Well, it might be awkward for them, but not for him. Considering his previous working conditions of overseeing 2,400 employees and multimillion-dollar building projects while answering to 10 big egos in search of a scapegoat, mayoral duties such as promoting the city, cutting ribbons and speaking to the Kiwanis Club would be like falling off a log.
Besides, three commissioners who voted to fire him won’t be there after this year. Joe Jackson, Corey Johnson and Al Mason go off the board Dec. 31. And 10th District Commissioner Grady Smith, who definitely plans to run for re-election this year, wasn’t there during the firing but said he wouldn’t have voted to do it.
I’LL DO ANYTHING. JUST LET ME OUT OF HERE! Sources say some commissioners who voted to fire Russell are wishing they hadn’t.
At least not the way they did. Although it sounds like a pretty lame excuse, they say after two hours cooped up with Commissioner Marion Williams calling for Russell’s head, they just decided to go ahead and get it over with.
WHEN YOU’RE NO LONGER SOMEBODY, NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME: Russell and his wife, Teresa, were among about 200 folks who attended Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s 2nd Annual Gala on Friday night at the Legends Club.
Many top politicians attending the gala felt comfortable at the club because, as we all know, they’re legends in their own minds.
Mayoral candidate state Sen. Hardie Davis failed Politics 101 by not being in the room when his name was called during the introductions. Others present were Mayor Deke Copenhaver; State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre; commissioners Mason and Williams; Randy Frails, the new attorney for the sheriff’s office; and U.S. Rep. John Barrow.
Probably for the first time since being named administrator, Russell was not among those introduced during ceremonies acknowledging VIPs, an omission the mayor remedied when it came his turn to speak. Much to his credit, he introduced Russell to a hearty round of applause.
After a dinner and silent auction, Roundtree donned his auctioneer’s hat to raise money for local charities and amazed the crowd by sounding like the real thing.
SEVERANCE IS SUCH SWEET SORROW: The city and Russell have agreed on his severance package: six months’ salary and benefits. He said he had no intention of trying to double dip and seek the package outlined in his employment letter and the one in the city’s personnel and policy manual.
WATCHING COMMISSIONERS IS ENTERTAINMENT ENOUGH: It’s not that I don’t believe Johnson when he said he’s been working on a plan for the past three years to create College Row, a mixed-use and entertainment district for college students along Walton Way between Summerville and downtown Augusta. It just seems strange that he never mentioned it until he decided to run for the state Senate.
Since many people know big plans are in the works for 15th Street, the MCG Foundation property in the Kroger shopping center and Walton Way, could this be a case of planting your flag to see which way the wind is blowing and going that way?
Actually, it sounds like some campaign advisor told Johnson he needed a positive project to campaign on.
Meanwhile, Mason wants to tear down the river levee and create a Leveeless District, which isn’t a bad idea until you start thinking about what the city would do with who-knows-how-many-billions of tons of contaminated dirt.
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW WHEN YOU’RE NOT THE ONE LEAVING: Russell’s firing and the cold, gray weather put me in mind of the many government officials I’ve seen come and go during my years with The Augusta Chronicle.
Some of them left on their own. Some left before they could be fired. Some were fired. And some died in office. And almost without exception I wrote their obituaries. So when pompous officials tried to hide information or shut me out of a meeting, I’d warn them to be careful because I’d have the last word to say about them when they died. That might not have been exactly ethical, journalistically speaking, but I got a kick out of it.
The first administrator I saw who was “asked to resign” was Robert Dixon in 1992. He went on to have a career in real estate, and I see his postings on Facebook from time to time.
Augusta Mayor Charles DeVaney lost his job when the city and Richmond County consolidated in 1996. He’d served the rest of Mayor Ed McIntyre’s term when McIntyre went to prison, then had three more three-year terms.
As I wrote after his funeral in 2007, DeVaney was the smartest man in town. He was a gentleman and a scholar. He’d been to Russia and England, France and Japan many times over. He could play politics as well as the piano. He knew everything about everything and everybody and loved a good gossip.
He was a wonderful speaker and could, as former City Councilwoman Carolyn Usry once said, speak with aplomb on almost any subject.
“If you said, ‘Charles, get up and talk about brain surgery, he could do it,’” she said. But, according to Usry, he wasn’t perfect. The two had some legendary battles while he was mayor and she was on the city council. She got so mad at him one time when he thwarted one of her political ploys that she threw her purse from one end of the hall to the other in the Marble Palace.
They eventually outlived their feuds, mostly. I wrote her obituary when she died in 2007.
The second administrator I saw fired was Linda Beazley, who was interim administrator along with Charles Dillard, immediately after consolidation. Mayor Larry Sconyers wrote each a letter stating their services would no longer be needed. Beazley went on to work in the secretary of state’s office in Atlanta, and Dillard went to work for an Augusta engineering firm.
Beazley died in 2011, and I wrote her obituary.
I did an in-depth interview with Coroner LeRoy Sims as he sat behind his desk at his Bay Street office in 2001. He was smoking forbidden cigarettes and thumping the ashes into a Coca-Cola can. Two years later, I wrote his obituary.
I also wrote a long feature story about Sheriff Charlie Webster before his retirement in 2000. He was sheriff from 1984 until 2000. He died in 2012.