A divided Augusta Commission voted down asking the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to do “a preliminary investigation” into the disappearance of computer files used by former City Administrator Fred Russell.
Commissioner Marion Williams, whose request last month to see Russell’s work files from the last five years resulted in just a few items, called for the probe after a 90-minute closed-door legal session.
Williams said the commission discussed behind closed doors the “possibility of having a preliminary investigation done, just to see had the law been broken” when the files went missing. Georgia laws require the retention of numerous types of government records, including e-mails, depending on their subject matter.
“If there’s nothing wrong, then a preliminary investigation shouldn’t be a problem,” Williams said. “I’m surprised that the commission didn’t vote to go ahead and do it … What kind of message is that going to say to the rest of the employees?”
Williams said he remains convinced that Russell, whom the commission voted to fire Dec. 9, deleted the files before his termination became effective and had assistance from someone else.
Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen, who has served as the city’s Information Technology Director since 2001, maintains that IT staff had no involvement in deleting files.
She said Monday, however, that in-house efforts to retrieve any of the missing files from the system turned up nothing.
Staff members “have not been able to retrieve anything,” Allen said. They “couldn’t find any files that were deleted.”
Needing six votes to pass, Williams’ motion to request the investigation failed 4-3, with Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson and Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Fennoy voting in favor.
Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, Bill Lockett and Grady Smith were opposed, while Commissioners Donnie Smith, Mary Davis and Joe Jackson were absent when the vote was taken.
Mason said his vote “was not so much a vote for Fred, it is more to see how this could happen and to help prevent this in the future. If we have a flaw in IT, we need to know about it.”
Russell, a former Richmond, Va., deputy police chief, had been with Augusta government since 2002. The commission’s 7-0 vote to fire him included no reason and Russell left with a six-month severance package.
He later revealed through campaign chairman Duncan Johnson that he was seeking the mayor’s post. But last week, a day after reportedly telling a TV reporter off-camera that he deleted the files himself, Russell announced he wasn’t running for mayor but gave no explanation. He did not return a call seeking comment.
Davis, who appeared for commission committee meetings Monday but missed the legal session, said with Russell no longer employed, the inquiry is likely a waste of time.
“Why are we spending our taxpayer dollars on somebody who is not working for the government?” she said.
Williams, whose frequent demands and questions about city government are prone to aggravate his colleagues, returned the request to the next commission meeting agenda.
In other business Monday, members of the city’s administrative services committee got an update on responses to the city’s requests for proposals to manage, lease or buy Augusta Municipal Golf Course. The two qualified vendors, Cypress Golf Management, of Orlando, Fla., and Classic Golf Management, of Marietta, Ga., will make presentations to city officials Feb. 21, according to Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Bob Levine.
The committee also declined, under advisement of Procurement Director Geri Sams, to reconsider a proposal from businessman Paul Simon to merge the course with adjacent First Tee of Augusta and share resources. The proposal had five supporting votes last year. Sams said reconsidering it now is “not fair to the persons who abided by the RFP.”
In an earlier Monday work session, commissioners heard requests from city department heads about projects to include on the next special purpose, local option sales tax but took no steps to narrow what has grown to $741 million in requested projects down to a package voters are more likely to favor May 20, around $200 million. The package must include repayment for an $8 million loan the city will take out in March to provide matching funds for Georgia Regents University to build a new cancer research center, Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer said.