Augusta commissioners begin work of choosing new city administrator

Commission begins work to pick new administrator
Former city Administrator Fred Russell was fired on Monday by a 7-0 vote.

Augusta commissioners have tough choices ahead on choosing the next city administrator after firing Fred Russell on Monday.

They likely will have help from the mayor, who was given the authority years ago to recommend up to three finalists for the top administrative slot, based on a commission-approved recruitment plan.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who could not be reached for comment, “would welcome being involved” in the process, said his executive assistant, Al Dallas. Copenhaver “certainly cares about the city, and the selection of an administrator is a crucial decision for the city.”

After firing Russell by a 7-0 vote, commissioners requested the city human resources department “immediately begin a search for a qualified professional service firm for a certified and qualified administrator,” and city HR Director Tanika Bryant said the department is researching firms.

For Commissioner Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor next year, the ideal candidate must meet the educational requirements of the city administrator’s job description.

“No waivers should be given, as has been past practices of this government,” Mason said.

The job description, last revised in 2010, requires a master’s degree in business administration or public administration and five to eight years of related experience, with skills ranging from complete understanding of all local government functions and laws to the ability to develop and make formal presentations to a large audience.

Mason said he’d like to see a candidate with 10 years’ experience supervising large and diverse municipalities, experience with a budget of $750 million or more and extensive knowledge of municipal financing mechanisms such as Georgia’s Tax Allocation Districts.

The job earned Russell, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice, an annual salary of $136,859 plus insurance, retirement benefits, a car allowance and an almost-guaranteed severance package of at least six months’ pay. It has no specified salary range.

Russell was “a bargain,” remarked Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who was absent from Monday’s vote. “It will probably cost us more than $150,000,” he said, but “if they have the experience, a proven track record, it’s worth it.”

Guilfoyle also suggested a candidate with “new blood” and no existing ties to local government.

Commissioner Marion Williams, who served on the commission that in January 2005 waived the selection process when it promoted Russell to the position, said this time the candidate needs proven experience as an administrator.

“Not somebody looking for an opportunity to get started,” Williams said, “a man or woman with experience on the job that’s been proven.”

Russell was hired in January 2002 as a deputy administrator, later appointed interim administrator, then given the job permanently in January 2005.

With the appropriate level of experience, Williams said the candidate will already have the education and certifications needed to “come in here and lead the city forward” and ensure commission directives are met.

“The wheel has already been invented; all we need to do is hire the administrator.”

Commissioner Donnie Smith said he wanted good communication skills and “strong skills in the everyday handling of government business,” including careful management of an $800 million budget, in an administrator, rather than one who dabbles in economic development, as Russell sometimes did.

“There’s too many times that we don’t know what’s going on in the government until it’s decision time,” Smith said.

Commissioner Mary Davis also wants the next administrator to have “experience in implementing and overseeing complex projects, such as SPLOST packages.”

The city’s sixth sales tax expires next year.

“We have a lot of exciting opportunities ahead in growth and economic development and I am excited about Augusta’s future,” Davis said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett stressed education and professional experience that includes fields such as accounting and long-range planning, and experience in multiple municipalities.

“Someone that’s going to separate themselves from the political environment,” Lockett said. “Someone that would stand up to the governing body when the governing body is trying to sway you to do something that’s wrong.”

He added he preferred not to hire “somebody’s friend” or an administrator who allows personal relationships to impact his or her job performance.

“Somebody with a clear head that will come in, do a survey of what we have and make positive strides,” Lockett said.

Russell is Augusta’s third administrator since consolidation and its first to be fired.

The consolidated government’s first administrator, Randy Oliver, was a Certified Public Accountant as well as a professional engineer. He held the job from October 1996 until leaving for a similar post in smaller Greenville, S.C., at a salary that was $35,000 higher, in October 2000.

The city’s first black administrator, George Kolb, knew Russell while both worked in Richmond, Va. Kolb held the job from April 2001 to May 2004, when he resigned to work as city manager of Wichita, Kan.

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Copenhaver issues statement on Russell firing
Russell fired as city administrator
Commission balances budget with no tax hikes, $4.5 million from savings
Augusta Commission talks budget at Tuesday meeting
City Administrator Job Description (.pdf)

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