Questions fired at Augusta officials over Russell's raises

Committee ends with call to rescind Russell's raises
Commissioners Alvin Mason (left) and Wayne Guilfoyle quiz Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Howard Willis. Department heads were called for questioning.



Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason led a charge Monday to extract information from city department heads and deputy administrators about City Administrator Fred Russell’s recent awarding of 44 retroactive pay raises and other issues related to an ongoing restructuring of government.

“Again, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Russell is not here to address the situation himself,” said Mason, who with Commissioner Bill Lockett called for Russell’s firing Aug. 16. That vote failed 6-4.

Russell subsequently went on vacation for a week, but he had a report describing cost savings from the reorganization plan distributed to commissioners Aug. 22.

Russell hadn’t returned Monday, and Mason used the opportunity to question the directors himself, starting by taking roll and reminding all nonelected department heads who were present that they were expected “to be honest and forthcoming” during what was an “on-the-record” Administrative Services Committee meeting.

Reading from the city’s new personnel manual, adopted around the same time Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan was hired, Mason quizzed Shanahan about whether the reorganization and raises followed the procedures spelled out in the manual.

“Is it your opinion that those 44 raises were done in accordance with the personnel policies and procedures manual?” Mason asked. “Did you ever physically see any of the paperwork?”

Shanahan said he’d had little involvement in it.

Questioned next, Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen said she, Russell, two employees from Human Resources and another from Information Technology had made up the committee that developed the reorganization plan starting last year.

“Did the 44 personnel meet the criteria?” Mason asked.

“As far as I know,” Allen said. “Yes.”

“So you physically saw the PDQs (Position Description Questionnaire)?” Mason asked. “Was there a PDQ done on you as a deputy administrator?”

Allen, who serves as IT director and deputy administrator, was among the 44 given raises. Most other city employees have received none in two years.

The manual hadn’t been approved when the committee appears to have developed the reorganization plan’s first phase, but it requires a department director provide a completed Position Description Questionnaire to human resources before creating new positions.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, who presides over the four-member Administrative Services Committee, later called Allen back to the podium, saying she had “something to clarify” about the raises.

“As far as the salary increases, things of that nature,” Allen said, “We were not involved.”

Quizzed on her eligibility to serve as finance director, Donna Williams told Mason that she had the required degrees and had four times served as interim finance director.

Among department heads called to speak, Geri Sams of Procurement, Evan Joseph of the Richmond County Correctional Institute and Hawthorne Welcher of Housing and Community Development said they had lost people and received no raises in the reorganization, and that morale was down.

Recreation, Parks and Fa­cilities Director Tom Beck said, “I think it’s pretty good in our department.” Several in the department, including Beck, were among the 44 who received raises.

“How much have you actually saved?” Mason asked Engineering Director Abie Ladson, who received a raise along with several other engineering employees.

“We haven’t actually saved any,” Ladson said. “The savings from us will come from us doing a good bit of our work in-house” over the next couple of years.

“There should have been some savings but then, no, there were some raises,” quipped Lockett, asking Ladson whether the reorganization of his department followed the manual.

“Everything but the PDQ,” Ladson said.

After much questioning, Mason made a motion to rescind the 44 raises. It passed in committee by a 3-0 vote, with Commissioner Jerry Brigham out of the room. The action needs full commission approval to go into effect.

FOLLOW staff writer Susan McCord’s Augusta Commission coverage on Twitter at @reportr1.