Former recreation director bolsters suit against city administrator

Former Augusta recreation director Tom Beck has stepped up his civil complaint against City Administrator Fred Russell, accusing Russell of defamation for saying Beck falsified a time card.

Beck filed suit last month against the city and Russell individually, alleging he was fired April 23 as retaliation for protecting former operations manager Melinda Pearson’s right to compensation under federal laws.

Russell had recommended April 23 that the Augusta Commission terminate Beck after an investigation and presentation by Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan. It showed that Beck had approved a time card that indicated Pearson had worked four days she had actually been off.

Beck insisted at the meeting that he only had been following a long-standing protocol of marking hours off as hours worked for employees exempt from overtime requirements who work excessive hours, but the commission heeded Russell’s recommendation and voted 8-1 to fire him for cause, denying Beck severance pay available to city department heads.

On Wednesday, Beck amended his complaint against Russell to include defamation, claiming Russell “acted with actual malice in making the allegation against (Beck) that he ‘falsified time cards’ in that he knew the allegation was patently false” and seeking additional, unspecified damages from the administrator.

Russell said Thursday he was unaware of the development.

City attorneys recently moved for Russell to be dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit because he was not Beck’s boss and is entitled to immunity because he was acting on behalf of the government, but a U.S. District judge has not ruled on that motion.

On Thursday, the commission completed a second day of interviews with candidates to replace Beck, meeting for about an hour with Robert Levine, the recreation and parks director in New Haven, Conn.

Levine described managing the New Haven department through a 10-year downsizing from 106 to 56 employees and its reliance on community groups to sponsor and support many of the program’s parks, facilities and programs.

Asked by Commissioner Alvin Mason about his leadership style, Levine said he was “a very inclusive manager” and did “not do things in a vacuum” and kept a focus on “the fact that we just need to get better” to help employees progress.

The department serves an area similar to Augusta, in which many participating children can’t afford activity fees, but it benefits greatly from partnerships with local schools and organizations including nearby Yale University, Levine said.

Commission members interviewed interim recreation director Ron Houck on Wednesday and have sessions scheduled for today and Tuesday with two other candidates: Parvin Neloms, the assistant parks and recreation director in Durham, N.C.; and Brian Borden, the parks and recreation director in Columbia, Tenn.

Interviews begin Tuesday for Augusta recreation director
Former recreation director Tom Beck suing city
Augusta Department of Recreation drama still unfolding
City recreation employee Melinda Pearson fights back over demotion
Controversy over Richmond County recreation director's dismissal continues
Details in Augusta recreation director's firing revealed
Augusta Commission fires longtime recreation director Tom Beck

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