City audit finds errors in 44 raises awarded to select Augusta employees

An internal city audit released Friday details several administrative, math and procedural errors in the way 44 retroactive pay raises were awarded select city employees in July.

See the audit from Baird & Co. (pdf format)

The raises, awarded as most city employees are enduring furloughs and raise freezes, triggered a call from Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett to fire City Administrator Fred Russell, but the move has yet to obtain the six supporting votes it needs to pass.

Requested by Commissioner Jerry Brigham, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and Mayor Deke Copenhaver as members of the city's pension and audit committee, the audit by longtime city auditor Baird & Company CPAs details several instances where the city's complex new personnel policy and procedures manual was not followed, but only two occasions where the raises were higher than Russell is authorized to give.

Among its findings:

• One raise was more than the 10 percent allowed for employees promoted to a new pay grade

• One raise, an increase of a part-time solid waste employee's hourly wage to $10, was more than a 15 percent increase, the maximum allowed

• Two raises were mathematically incorrect, slightly less than 10 percent specified

• Nine other raises were higher than the scheduled pay grade increases for promoted employees, but within 15 percent

• Ten of the raises' effective dates were changed on forms from April to May with no signature or initials to indicate who made the changes

• Thirty of the same forms had request dates later than the effective dates of the raises, and four were missing department head approval

• Five forms documenting employees who were laid off, then rehired with raises, were missing Russell's approval

The audit does not examine the retroactive nature of the increases, but notes that the personnel manual does not address retroactive salary increases either.

While retroactive raises are against the law, the Augusta employees given raises were paid a lump sum for the amount they would have earned if the raises went into effect in May.

The manual prohibits Russell from awarding raises of more than 15 percent without commission approval, but it allows the administrator to reclassify workers at new pay grades with associated salaries more than 15 percent higher.

The complex new document has been a bone of contention with Mason and Lockett, who said he was not surprised by the audit findings.

"This is something that happens when you make hasty decisions," Lockett said, citing other discrepancies not examined by the Baird.

Former Human Resources Director Rod Powell, who helped the city law department draft the lengthy manual, said he'd forwarded documentation about each raise and reclassification through the law department prior to their implementation.

At a morning workshop, Russell defended the 44 raises - awarded to city Engineering, Solid Waste, Recreation, Finance, Utilities and Administrative personnel - as increased pay for employees with expanded job duties, while other department heads made their case to add or promote staff.

Russell listened to their requests, but said he remained "afraid" to approve "dozens" of raises already in the works for a reorganized Utilities department, because of prior commission and public disapproval.

Joining the group with a request was Copenhaver, who wants to add a $100,000 economic development professional to his staff.

Augusta "needs somebody within the government dedicated to bring in initiatives," the mayor said.

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Numbers show Russell may have exceeded raise limit
Commission agenda packed, renewed call for administrator's firing
Mason shows little mercy as Augusta's grand inquisitor
Augusta Administrator Fred Russell back at work, but still in hot seat
Questions fired at Augusta officials over Russell's raises
Russell out of office, commissioners question raises
Augusta has had experience in replacing city administrators
Report details savings from Augusta reorganization
Read the audit report

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