In a meeting that filled the commission chamber nearly an hour before it began and saw Russell have to intervene in a verbal dispute between commissioners Al Mason and Grady Smith, city employees also regained their pay for the last of five furlough days scheduled for the year.
The employees, including 87 firefighters who attended to hear Augusta Firefighters Association Vice President Charles Masters detail a long list of complaints about three people in fire administration, get the last two former furlough days off with pay.
Masters’ list of issues, including a recent policy change that pulled an aerial truck off residential calls on the city’s south side, all pointed toward top firefighter leadership as the problem.
“This department has been on autopilot for six years,” said Masters, drawing a standing ovation from firefighters in the audience and calling for the termination of Willis and deputy fire chiefs Carl Scott and Mike Rogers.
No action was taken regarding the fire department, but as firefighters were exiting the room, Smith said he’d had enough of Mason’s critical public comments about city department heads, including Willis, and the two got in an argument behind the dais. Russell advised them that microphones were on.
“It was a difference of opinion about how employees should be treated at the podium,” Smith said.
Mason asked Masters about whether fire administration ought to hold EMT certification, but his questions weren’t as pointed as they were at the Aug. 29 committee meetings, where he repeatedly asked Willis and other department heads about their job qualifications and educational attainment.
Mason, who had three commissioners join him in a vote to fire Russell on Aug. 16, Tuesday found only the support of Lockett in a vote that failed 7-2.
Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who previously voted with Lockett and Mason to fire Russell, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Matt Aitken, who also previously voted to fire Russell, said prior to the vote that “until we have a plan that is the will of this body,” he wouldn’t vote against Russell.
Other commissioners, still reeling from the revelation that Russell awarded 44 hefty pay raises to certain employees involved in the ongoing reorganization of city government, have said they won’t vote to fire Russell without a plan of succession. On Tuesday, Mason noted that, despite his disapproval of the new personnel manual, it spells out the line of succession.
Commissioner Corey Johnson, who surprised some constituents when he did not vote against Russell Aug. 16, said he’d been “called names” for his prior vote against Russell, but that he “has to look at the facts, (and) weigh them” himself.
The results of an internal audit, which may reveal that several of the 44 raises were more than the 15 percent increases Russell is authorized to give, were not presented Tuesday.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who requested the internal audit, said he had not received “the final report” from the auditor and wasn’t ready to discuss its findings.
City employees got two furlough days’ pay returned, but Mason and Lockett wanted more. Among Tuesday motions the pair favored that failed were:
l Lockett’s motion to repay all five 2011 employee furlough days;
l Mason’s motion to rescind the 44 raises, which failed 5-4 with Aitken and Johnson also in favor;
l A request to give raises to all Augusta employees;
l The vote to fire Russell.