Fred Russell’s eight year tenure as Augusta city administrator ended Tuesday, after the city commission voted Dec. 9 to fire him for a variety of reasons. The Chronicle interviewed Russell during his final days on the job with the city.
Q: Why did you stay in Augusta government for 12 years?
A: “The reason I stayed as long as I did is I got a lot of respect from a great deal of the community. I feel like I haven’t really finished what I needed to do.”
Q: What advice do you have for the mayor and commission, as they begin a search for your replacement?
A: “They need to get a headhunter … The first thing they need to do is get over the sticker shock. The second thing, because of the way they did me and the way this organization works, you’re going to get hundreds of people to apply, and very few people able to make it work. It’s going to be tough for somebody. This one is particularly hard, based on the nature of the way the government is set up.”
Q: Did four new faces on the commission contribute to your termination?
A: “Obviously I haven’t changed, but the political waters changed around me. I’m amazed still at how Augusta politicians sometimes get bogged down in the minutiae and lose track of the end goal.”
Q: You had offered to train a replacement prior to retiring next year, but the commission opted instead to vote you out Dec. 9. How do feel about the way your job ended?
A: “It’s the cost of doing business in Augusta. It wasn’t done as classy as it could have been. I thought that I recognized the issue and gave them a path forward. I gave them what I thought was appropriate. Obviously, I was wrong.”
Q: Do you have any regrets about your time as city administrator?
A: “I think I’ve continually underestimated the response of the commission to, like the slum thing. We argued amongst ourselves about whether to put that in there. I rolled the dice on that and was amazed at their knee-jerk reaction. It was much to-do about nothing.”
Q: Commissioners learned about the decision to designate the central business district as a “slum” from a Chronicle reporter, who found it on a meeting agenda. Were you surprised at the reaction?
A: “The commission’s been known for their overreaction to things. It’s what we as a profession have to deal with in attempting to do our jobs. I made a lot of decisions, some better than others, over 12 years.”
Q: You really think the “slum” report got you fired?
A: “Their response is what always amazed me. These are people that voted to fire me without a plan whatsoever, after I gave them a nice, easy way out. Occasionally, I got criticized about telling people what was going on but not telling everybody.”
Q: With which commissioner were you closest the last eight years?
A: “None of them particularly.”