Returning from a week’s vacation Tuesday, having missed a five-hour session on Monday in which several Augusta Commission members grilled city department heads about controversial raises he pushed through, City Administrator Fred Russell offered two words about the inquisition.
At the Monday committee meetings, in Russell’s absence, Commissioner Al Mason – sometimes joined by Bill Lockett and Wayne Guilfoyle – took the directors to task about the implementation of the raises awarded some employees and other changes related to Russell’s work of reorganizing city government.
A vote Monday to rescind the raises passed in committee 3-0, with Mason, Lockett and Matt Aitken voting in favor, while Commissioner Jerry Brigham accused Mason of holding a “kangaroo court” and walked out before the vote.
Rescinding the raises – for which the 44 employees were paid a lump sum for the amount they would have made if earning the higher pay as of May 2 – needs six commission votes to pass. A related measure to suspend Russell’s authority to give raises and reorganize government wasn’t voted on Monday and will go before the full commission next week.
Russell, insisting he had not interviewed for jobs while away, said he’d planned the vacation months ago and spent the week with a firm that fed approximately 600 riders on stops along the mountainous USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado.
The consolidated government’s longest-serving administrator has been under fire for months from Mason and Lockett, who disapproved of the reorganization plan and new personnel manual. But the pair gained partners in their fury when commissioners realized the number and size of the raises, which amount to more than $350,000 across six departments. Mason’s motion to fire Russell failed 6-4 Aug. 16.
The department heads who received the raises defended them as justified by their additional job duties under the reorganization plan’s first phase, while heads of those who did not – Engineering, Procurement, Richmond County Correctional Institute, Augusta Fire Department, Housing and Community Development and others – complained that morale was down as staffers who’ve lost colleagues to downsizing and pay to furlough reductions do more with less.
Brigham, a member of the city’s Pension and Audit Committee, said he and fellow committee members Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Joe Bowles have directed internal auditor Baird & Company to review the raises, and that auditor Brenda Carroll’s report should be completed soon.
Brigham said the review costs nothing under the city’s annual contract with Baird.