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Augusta administrator keeps job

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Augusta Administrator Fred Russell held onto his job Tuesday, after a motion to fire him failed 6-4.

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Augusta Administrator Fred Russell smiles as the Augusta Commission votes to adjourn. A motion to fire Russell was defeated by a 6-4 vote Tuesday. He has been criticized by some commissioners for granting 15 percent raises to 44 city employees.  Sara Caldwell/Staff
Sara Caldwell/Staff
Augusta Administrator Fred Russell smiles as the Augusta Commission votes to adjourn. A motion to fire Russell was defeated by a 6-4 vote Tuesday. He has been criticized by some commissioners for granting 15 percent raises to 44 city employees.

A standing-room-only audience filled the commission chamber and hallway outside as the commission met for 90 minutes behind closed doors with attorneys, but not Russell.

Emerging into open session, Commission­er Alvin Mason made a motion to terminate Russell that was immediately seconded by Commissioner Bill Lockett.

“In light of the discussion we had back in legal, I want to make a motion that Mr. Russell be terminated, effective immediately,” Mason said.

Mason and Lockett have led a charge to fire Russell since becoming aware last week that the administrator granted 44 employees raises in the context of a reorganization plan that was supposed to save the city money.

While other commissioners had joined them in criticizing the raises, only two – Matt Aitken and J.R. Hatney – voted in favor of the motion.

“We voted to fire him,” Aitken said. “It’s been an ongoing thing ever since (former Public Services Director) Mike Greene and how that whole situation was handled. It’s just been up and down, a roller coaster in so many cases, and when you see the follow-through that we’ve seen from the administrator, and some of the things that were asked over the course of our meetings.”

Aitken, the one commissioner eligible for re-election next year, said he had “received demanding phone calls.”

Greene, who retired, was among the first employees targeted by the reorganization plan. His department was eliminated, and its functions spread among the city’s engineering, recreation and environmental services departments.

Russell has justified the raises by saying employees in the other departments who took on public works’ maintenance functions were now doing more work, but he did not present a report on the subject Tuesday as Mason had requested on the regular meeting agenda.

After they emerged from the closed-door meeting, Mason’s motion to fire Russell initially was met with opposition from Com­missioner Jerry Brigham, who said it needed unanimous consent to be added to the agenda.

When Mason argued that an agenda item relating to the city’s bus service had similarly morphed into an action, General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie offered to “look into the provision if we take a short recess,” but Bowles interjected that unanimous consent was there and the item moved forward.

“I thought we just needed to go ahead and get it over with,” Brigham said after the meeting.

Before the vote was taken, Mason gave a short speech.

“All the citizens are looking for is a few good men who have the intestinal fortitude to do what is right,” he said. “We have all run on a platform of change, setting the tone and moving this city forward.”

Russell’s contract awards him six months’ salary if he’s fired. The city’s new personnel manual adds at least three more months’ severance pay to top-ranking employees who are terminated.

Johnson, who frequently votes with Mason and Lockett, indicated there was more to his vote than a desire to retain Russell.

“I don’t think the people would be happy paying him $200,000 plus the potential litigation,” Johnson said. “The exit is all about the strat­­egy,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Brigham, who has requested the city’s auditor examine whether the raises were given in accordance to policy, said he voted against the motion because the commission had no backup plan.

“Just to go in there and fire some­body when you don’t have any idea about how to replace them? That’s ridiculous,” he said.

While most of the commissioners have called for an explanation for the raises, Russell provided none Tuesday because Brigham motioned to adjourn.

“I had had enough,” Brigham said.

Russell, who had to be summoned from his office after the vote was taken, said, “No matter what the vote was, the commission has the right to do what’s appropriate.”

Among many in attendance was Rollins neighborhood activist Juanita Burney.

“When he gave 15 percent raises, I don’t know what he was thinking,” Burney said. “Fifteen percent is unheard of, especially in a down economy.”

Others were shocked at how few voted in favor of the motion.

“I thanked Matt for his vote,” Harrisburg activist Lori Davis said.

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allhans
24008
Points
allhans 08/16/11 - 11:00 pm
1
0
One of the people that got a

One of the people that got a large raise was on the chopping block not too long ago? I seem to recall reading about a problem with an employee with Parks & Recreation. Am I wrong?

allhans
24008
Points
allhans 08/16/11 - 11:05 pm
1
0
In the future, on a local

In the future, on a local level and a federal level, could we vote for leaders who will LEAD!!.
Lack of leadership in government has become contagious, a fatal disease.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 08/16/11 - 11:16 pm
1
0
Russell Needs to go.

Russell Needs to go. However, these ridiculous policies giving people 6 months pay and supervisors an additional 3 months pay MUST be done away with immediately. How can anyone in their right mind even allow policies such as this to take place?

As for "more work" I bet every one of those people who received raises complete all of their work still in 40 hours per week. Does this mean they were greatly underworked prior to being given more duties and therefore do they us us part of their salaries from previous years.

Hopefully, ALL commissoners know that Russell must go. Now, we need to prepare for his removal by being prepared with a replacement and removing theses insane pay out policies.

Little Lamb
46918
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/11 - 11:26 pm
1
0
To willie7: You only have to

To willie7: You only have to click the "Save Comment" button once. Sometimes your computer is slow, and many times the Chronicle's server is slow. Just be patient.

Now, on to bigger things. When Mason scolded Corey Johnson two weeks ago about asking for a Mulligan on his vote on the municipal golf course mangagement deal, Johnson got his feelings hurt so bad that he is going to oppose Mason on any and every vote until the next mayoral election is done.

Either that, or a fix is in for Johnson to be "paid off" for his unusual vote. That "fix" is what must have been discussed in the secret meeting that preceded the public meeting.

Little Lamb
46918
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/11 - 11:31 pm
1
0
Okay. So far, so good. Now

Okay. So far, so good. Now the next thing is to clean up the mess. Here is Little Lamb's plan:

1. Rescind Russell's Christmas presents for the "gang of 44," i.e. the pay raises.

2. Amend the reorganization plan (i.e., the personnel, policies and procedures manual recently passed) to explicitly forbid severance payouts to the City Administrator and the City Attorney for any reason whatsoever.

3. Fire the current City Administrator.

4. Take a very long and leisurely time in replacing him.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 08/16/11 - 11:36 pm
0
0
This is why no matter how
Unpublished

This is why no matter how many Costco's and call centers and chicken wing places come to Augusta it will never be considered anything other than a good ole boy hick town. Because it is.

Pandalover
0
Points
Pandalover 08/17/11 - 12:00 am
0
1
The whole thing is one big

The whole thing is one big screw you! to the rest of the employees who did not receive raises of any kind and continue to have furlough pay reductions coming out of their paycheck. Its like we don't matter at all.
If we had a union a strike would be in order for sure.

alinfun
24
Points
alinfun 08/17/11 - 12:59 am
1
0
Different day, same old

Different day, same old stuff. Lived here 46 years and it just gets better every minute. Need to replace commissioners as soon as possible and a Mayor Pro Tem while were at it!

owensjef2
0
Points
owensjef2 08/17/11 - 01:21 am
0
0
Okay Willie we get your point

Okay Willie we get your point

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 08/17/11 - 02:35 am
0
1
This is much ado about

This is much ado about nothing. Only someone with the knowledge Russell has would be able to make the decisions he has made. He operated within the parameters of his job & is the one responsible for the operation of the city. Give him a chance to be proven right or wrong. If his decisions are not in the best interest of the city in the long-run then he should go. Don't micromanage the Administrator like many of the Commissioners trY to do. One other thing - every executive should be charged with training his replacement. That's what successful organizations do. Life has too many surprises to not have such a plan. A good example is our current School Superintendent. Good managers are not threatened by such a policy.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 08/17/11 - 04:38 am
0
0
Good point,(T)hewizOoz.

Good point,(T)hewizOoz.

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 08/17/11 - 05:09 am
1
0
LL the fix is in or Johnson

LL the fix is in or Johnson was paid off. I took you to be a lot smarter than that. Maybe Atiken was paid off. Why not state the obvious Lockett was the only commissioner to read the manual. He knew the language of the document was flawed. The others didn't read it and they just followed suit. To residents of Joe Jackson's district thank you for electing Brigham's personal lap dog.

Privy
104
Points
Privy 08/17/11 - 05:54 am
1
0
Wonder why the city did not

Wonder why the city did not look at each employee on payroll. there are some being paid for doing jobs that were abolished?
Some employees are doing the jobs of their supervisors/directors and have not received raises in the past or the present.
Watch out from the lawsuits for those that know!

Riverman1
86905
Points
Riverman1 08/17/11 - 06:06 am
1
0
There will be another

There will be another administrator soon as the commission majority becomes 6-4 black which shouldn't be too long with the way the demographics of the county are changing. Conservatives who want less government won't like who they find, however.

Russell is in an awkward position unable to talk publicly about what he has done and unable to embarrass ANY commissioner.

The blacks may not care for the reorganization and power given to the administrator, but they would care even less for an administrator brought in with a defined mission from the commission majority to cut spending.

I still find it funny that the Chronicle and both afternoon talk radio stations got it wrong about what would happen. Bet 6-4 always even if it did take two surprise votes to reach the omnipresent numbers.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 08/17/11 - 06:48 am
0
0
Hey Willie, do you know any

Hey Willie, do you know any employees in Abe Latson's department, engineering?

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 08/17/11 - 07:03 am
0
0
wiz, So you are saying that

wiz,

So you are saying that in a time of the giverment being $9,000,000.00 in the hole, employees not receiving so much as COL raises for several years, furloughs, pay reductions and cut backs that this is a "good" idea?

Oh by the way, when will that hotel be breaking ground down there on Reynolds? I remember you said that if they did not pass the TEE that they (the big shot hotel) would walk away and Augusta would lose that amazing opportunity.

So they passed TEE and the shovels you had ready to break ground must have went back to the stable to do their real job for now right?

Is that any indication of your abilities to foresee the future?

Cause you are waaaay off base on these raises. I am sure they could have found someone in this market of 10% unemployment to take these jobs for LESS pay no matter what the job description was or how many duties were piled on.

Do you think public employees are paid too little at the top?

Just wondering what your thinking on this one because you are not a bad businessman (as far as I know) and you would not run your company this way, so why should you feel this way about these poor choices spending the public money we don't have?

Brad

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/17/11 - 07:26 am
0
1
RM...I have no idea what

RM...I have no idea what anyone else said, but on MY show (since you brought it up), I said there was a 6-4 split last Thursday, and mentioned the fact that Russell was NOT going to be fired TUESDAY in three different morning commentaries as well.

The Szablewski thing was mentioned as one of about five different "dream" scenarios that featured a hatchetman coming in and cleaning house when Russell eventually DID go. My suggestion was getting Pete Brodie to come in and do it, he has the background, knows the city, and doesn't care about hurting feelings.

The 6-4 split was a given, the Corey Johnson-Matt Aitken role reversal was the curveball no one saw coming...not even the other commissioners. THAT happened MONDAY...neither guy was going to vote that way before Monday.

I am told Corey was asked directly by a local religious leader to "spare Fred"...with Matt, it is clearly a case of doing what his constituents want him to do.

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/17/11 - 07:27 am
0
1
...oh...and Russell will be

...oh...and Russell will be gone long before the Commission changes players. He got a reprieve yesterday, not a pardon.

Riverman1
86905
Points
Riverman1 08/17/11 - 07:32 am
1
0
Austin, oh, I thought from

Austin, oh, I thought from the way you were talking that you thought he was going as the Chronicle editorialized. So you were just wishing last week with the talk about Szablewski or Brodie being brought in as hatchet men. Okay. So Jerry thinks Russell only got a reprieve?

Riverman1
86905
Points
Riverman1 08/17/11 - 07:35 am
1
0
To me, the puzzling thing is

To me, the puzzling thing is why would the black commissioners vote to get rid of Russell when the whites would only use it as an opportunity to bring in someone to cut jobs and salaries?

my.voice
4921
Points
my.voice 08/17/11 - 07:41 am
0
0
Grandstand vote, nothing

Grandstand vote, nothing more, nothing less.

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/17/11 - 07:57 am
0
1
I have spoken with three

I have spoken with three commissioners...they all say the same thing. There are some dicey budget meetings coming, and they want Fred there to answer questions and take care of details...the deputies are not up to the task.

I tend to think some tough moves are about to made as well, and who better to take the heat than a Dead Man Walking?

HR71C10
1
Points
HR71C10 08/17/11 - 08:09 am
0
0
So I must ask this question.

So I must ask this question. If supposedly the only reason for not getting rid of Fred is because we don't know who can replace him, then why did we hire Bill Shanahan at 117k a year as an assistant? Why do we have Tomeka there too?? If they can't do the job, why are they there? To hire an asst. admin. means they can do your job. If they can't, get rid of them. In my world, (firefighting) I have to be able to do my job, the job above me, and the job below me everyday I go to work. You don't see 15% over here now do you. No, you see 5% for a PROMOTION. I'm responsible for a million dollar fire station, a three quarter million fire truck, 4 firefighters health and safety, and the safety of all of the general public. Increased job responsibility you think????

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 08/17/11 - 08:12 am
0
0
Good point Austin, and I

Good point Austin, and I agree on Matt Aitken.

Riverman1
86905
Points
Riverman1 08/17/11 - 08:25 am
0
0
Heh, I'd like to know what

Heh, I'd like to know what commissioner's constituents didn't want Russell gone?

HR71C10
1
Points
HR71C10 08/17/11 - 08:34 am
0
0
Aug. Chron. needs a like

Aug. Chron. needs a like button for some comments.

OldschoolGeezer
0
Points
OldschoolGeezer 08/17/11 - 08:34 am
0
0
As stated in the article, it

As stated in the article, it would cost more to "fire" Russell than to keep him and eat crow. His severance would be $200K+ and since there is no one chomping at the bit to jump into his seat, the job search would cost the city as much as the raises (like the school board, who ended up hiring someone who has been on disability leave for the past year,,,, are we still paying HIS salary? I have the right to ask, over 50% of my taxes go there).

Isn't it enough to say that they are all crooks and just play the politico game to be able to say that they have been there. They must get their play book from Congress, they can't get anything right either.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 08/17/11 - 08:40 am
0
0
HR, This is a slap in the

HR,

This is a slap in the face to all of you who earn your money.

Brad

wwud
0
Points
wwud 08/17/11 - 09:19 am
0
0
Corey Johnson, When you voted

Corey Johnson, When you voted to keep Fred Russell you slapped all of us that voted for you in the face. You can count this one vote GONE and all others that I can get not to vote for you again. I have one
question for you how much did you sell your vote for?

Austin Rhodes
2907
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/17/11 - 09:39 am
0
0
WWUD, Corey cannot run

WWUD, Corey cannot run again...so unless you want to vote against him for the Rotary Club Man of the year, you are out of luck for now.

Conspiracy theorists might like to consider that Russell had a prime hand in hiring his deputies. Great way to ensure your own position is to make sure the understudies aren't up to snuff...

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