Left with only one person in the administrator’s office come Jan. 1 and unable to agree on an interim administrator, the Augusta Commission appointed Mayor Deke Copenhaver on Tuesday as “acting administrator” to ensure the continued operations of government.
The decision follows the commission’s vote last week to fire City Administrator Fred Russell, effective Dec. 31. Russell currently has only one deputy administrator – longtime city employee Tameka Allen, who doubles as Information Technology director – since the resignation of Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan in August.
The 9-0 vote, with Commissioner Marion Williams voting “present,” prevents a situation in which the government would be left with no executive if Allen had to be away. Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson will serve as acting administrator when Copenhaver is absent.
“It provides a layer of protection where there would never be an occasion where there was no one to sign off on something,” City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said.
Under the city code and personnel manual, the administrator oversees operations and staff in all city departments. The administrator signs off on all hirings, firings, promotions and raises up to 15 percent, oversees the budget and can make purchases and contract for services up to a certain amount.
Commissioner Mary Davis said the vote provides “a safety net” ensuring the continued day-to-day operations of government while the commission selects an interim and eventually, a permanent administrator.
“We gave the authority to the mayor if the deputy isn’t available, and to the mayor pro tem if the mayor isn’t available,” Davis said.
Commissioner Donnie Smith said commissioners couldn’t agree Tuesday on who will serve as interim administrator during the search, hence Tuesday’s decision.
Several commissioners, including Bill Lockett, have pushed to make Allen interim, but others, such as Smith, say someone without a possible interest in the top job should be named until a new administrator is found.
“My position has not changed,” Smith said. “We agreed to work on it some more during the break period.”
Asked if he’ll take on hirings, firings and other day-to-day functions Jan. 1, Copenhaver said he’ll leave those tasks to Allen, unless she’s out.
“We haven’t been in this situation before, and I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to step up and help the team,” he said. “I don’t want to run the day-to-day operations of the city; that’s not the role of the mayor.”
Copenhaver said he expects no additional pay for the assignment.
Williams said he voted “present” because the motion, prepared by Senior City Counsel Wayne Brown, was confusing.
“I told them that motion was crazy,” Williams said. “It made it sound like we voted them interim administrator, and we didn’t.”
Also left uncertain Tuesday was the amount of severance pay the city will give Russell. Under the city’s personnel manual, he’s eligible for six months’ salary and benefits, about $100,000, if fired for any reason besides breaking the law. But a 2005 “engagement letter,” signed by Williams when he was mayor pro tem, gives Russell another six months’ pay and benefits, including the pension plan and leave time of a 20-year employee. MacKenzie has refused to comment on whether the letter is enforceable.
In other business Tuesday, the commission:
• Approved a memorandum of understanding with Augusta National Golf Course detailing both parties’ intentions to fast-track a plan to realign Berckmans Road and add a turn lane to improve traffic flow. The club has expressed a desire to loan the city funds for the project, to be repaid as Transportation Investment Act sales tax collections come in
• Learned but took no action on information that city department heads who live outside Augusta garner more than $600,000 in salaries each year
• Approved 7-2, with Smith and Guilfoyle opposed, issuing up to $28.5 million in bonds to fund renovations at Augusta Municipal Building and construction of a new IT building. Special City Counsel Jim Plunkett told Smith the commission could reduce the scope of the construction project, if desired, but needed to do so at the next commission meeting
• Voted 8-0, with Commissioners Bill Fennoy and Guilfoyle out, to create a new Tax Allocation District 4 using 294 downtown parcels and dissolve TAD 1, which has generated no tax increments used to fund development in the district. TAD proceeds have been promised to developer T.R. Reddy, who is remodeling a Holiday Inn Express on Broad Street.