A month ago, Commissioner Joe Jackson voted to fire city Administrator Fred Russell. Now he’s singing Russell’s praises and supporting him for mayor.
After hearing about Jackson’s change of heart, I called to inquire as to his state of mind.
“It was politics,” he said about the firing. “The $40 million spent for (renovating) the Marble Palace. That’s the kind of thing that got my goat.”
I just let it slide that Russell gave commissioners three alternative renovation plans and cost estimates to choose from, and they voted on the $40 million plan.
“The No. 1 reason I’m supporting him is he’s the only person that’s come and asked me to support him,” Jackson continued. “And as far as connections to the community, he’s the most involved person in Richmond County. He won’t have to do any networking. He’s already got connections with GRU and Paine College. He’s got his finger on the pulse of the community and the government.”
But the main thing about Russell, Jackson said, is “he’s never lied to us. He’s done what he said he’d do. We had our disagreements with him, but having to appease 10 people … Of the announced candidates, what have they done for Augusta? What from state Sen. Hardie Davis’ side has he brought back to Augusta?
“And Alvin Mason is running for mayor. What has he done for the city? At least Fred brought something to the table.”
I posed that very question to Mason and Davis.
“Joe clearly has amnesia, as it was his suggestion that we fire Fred immediately, and now he supports him,” Mason said. “That speaks volumes. I guess it’s because he couldn’t get any support in his run for mayor. Everybody knew he was just a placeholder. All the calling around he did netted him zero.
“Feel free to go on my Web site if you feel the need to find out what I have done. I suspect you won’t have to, though. I don’t count the things I do. I just do the things that count. At the end of the day the voters will decide, and I will be fine with whatever decision they make. I will continue to pray for Joe, his wife and family during these troubling times.”
Davis said there’s no comparison between his service and Russell’s.
“I am the senator elected by the people to represent the 22nd Senate District,” he said. “Mr. Russell was a hired employee of the city who was involuntarily dismissed by those to whom he reported. His decisions surrounding the use of taxpayer dollars for a variety of projects, notwithstanding the parking deck debacle that involved air rights versus city ownership of the land and granting unauthorized salary increases to a select group of employees, have cost the city and taxpayers greatly.”
Davis said he was one of the few Democrats in the Legislature to have written legislation that was passed and signed into law by the governor.
“Locally, I worked with the members of the legislative delegation to re-constitute the Coliseum Authority, and it has been a stellar example of people working together to get things done.
“As the senator, I have worked with elected officials and community stakeholders from across this state to bring significant resources to our community in the areas of education, transportation and health care.”
ONE MORE FOR RUSSELL: Commissioner Grady Smith, who was absent the day Russell was fired, said if Russell is a candidate, he’ll support him.
“Give it a little time, and I think people will see he did more good for Richmond County than anybody realized, ” Smith said.
He likened Russell’s firing to that of Recreation Director Tom Beck in 2012 over a trumped-up accusation of time-card fraud.
“He worked 37 years, and they drum up some little charge about four hours’ worth of time,” he said. “If somebody wants to get rid of you, they can find a reason. And until we stop playing games in this county, it’s going nowhere.”
THE BOY KING CHIMES IN: When asked whether he’d support Russell, Mayor Deke Copenhaver didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said that if Russell “jumps into the race, he’ll be a formidable candidate as his knowledge of local government and how to work within it is substantial to say the least.”
The mayor said he introduced Russell at the sheriff’s gala last week after Russell had been left out of the VIP introductions because he felt strongly it was something he needed to do because Russell has done “a tremendous amount” to help the city grow.
“And I think his efforts deserved to be acknowledged publicly,” he said.
As for whether he’d like to be city administrator, Copenhaver said he had “no interest in that position whatsoever.”
“In the future I’ll continue to do whatever I can to help the city move forward, but after running the Greenspace program for four years and serving as mayor for nine years, doing that as a private citizen is very appealing to me at this point!” he said.
IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK AND ASKS FOR DONATIONS: It’s running for something. Russell hasn’t officially announced, but he’s acting like a candidate, raising money and making the rounds in south Augusta. He was in Hephzibah three times last week.
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN: Commissioner Marion Williams is demanding to see Russell’s hard drive.
Seven years ago, then-Commissioner Calvin Holland asked an assistant city information technology director for the hard drive from Russell’s computer while Russell was on vacation. Holland was later censured by his colleagues.
Williams got into the act and said he’d had to “go outside to do some things” to get a copy of the hard drive but hadn’t looked at it because he wanted to be sure he was on solid legal ground.
Computergate eventually faded away, but not the bitterness over the censure.
Williams made his new request at last week’s commission meeting. Attorney Andrew MacKenzie told him he could make a Freedom of Information request, which predictably didn’t sit well with Williams.
“I don’t have to request no Freedom of Information,” he said later. “The attorney’s wrong. He’s been wrong, and he needs to go. Ain’t nothing in this government elected officials can’t see. I’ve got a right to see it. I’m going to see it. I’m going to expose it.”
HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL: Davis and Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, were members of a state Senate committee that is recommending the state make it easier for ex-convicts to erase their criminal records and to block landlords, employers and the media from accessing arrest information, according to Morris News Service reporter Walter Jones.
The recommendations include prohibiting companies from asking job candidates about convictions that have been legally wiped away and ending the release of mug shots and booking information. The report notes that having a criminal record makes getting jobs and housing difficult.
Hmmm, I wonder why.
David Hudson, an attorney for the Georgia Press Association, warned that keeping initial arrest records and mug shots secret would resemble practices in a police state
SHE’S IN AGAIN: State Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, who will be seeking her fourth term in the Legislature this year, has been appointed chairwoman of the State Properties Commission. Sims is also a member of six other House committees, including Rules, Appropriations and Transportation.