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Former recreation director bolsters suit against city administrator

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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.

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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.

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Riverman1 01/25/13 - 05:30 am
Richmond County spending

Richmond County spending money in court defending itself and its public officials should be made into a reality TV show. There would be no shortage of material and it could run forever.

rebellious 01/25/13 - 06:29 am
Makes me wonder

Just how much taxpayers have shelled out in these lawsuits over the last 10 years.

Maybe Countyman has the stats...

GnipGnop 01/25/13 - 08:27 am
To much!!!

You got to know when to hold them....Augusta never does...Chiquita, Teresa, Xmart, numerous lawsuits againt the procurement deprtment, inspector lawsuit? Hello? Does anyone have any common sense anymore?

OpenCurtain 01/25/13 - 09:29 am
When are we going find a new home

for Fred Russell?

It seems his name pops up too frequently, when Taxpayers are getting tuned up for MORE taxes, lawsuits and "Special Downtown Projects" and etc...

Every day re-enforces my belief we need a COUNTY-WIDE Administrator.

Bulldog1 01/25/13 - 10:27 am
Tom deserves every penny he gets

Tom Beck deserves every penny he gets. I only wish that it actually came out of the pockets of those responsible for this mess rather than he taxpayers!

LillyfromtheMills 01/25/13 - 11:19 am

Has left the county - he is now residing in Columbia Co :) No, that can't be right, he's living in the hip part of downtown Augusta.

PghSteelersFan 01/25/13 - 01:11 pm
Seems Fred Russell is a bit

Seems Fred Russell is a bit of a lightning rod.
The job isn't the easiest one, City Managers across the Country get the brunt of the storm from taxpayers, City employees, and just about everyone else who has a gripe against the City.
In Mr Russell's case it seems the storm has intensified to a point where it seems to be winning.
A wise man knows to seek safer harbor when it seems the storm may win. If he doesn't then he risks having his boat sink completely.

GnipGnop 01/25/13 - 05:54 pm
Fred has earned...

Every lightning strike he gets!!

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