The Palm Beach Post and the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota reported Tuesday that Russell is one of eight candidates for county administrator, narrowed from a field of 45 by The Mercer Group, an executive search firm.
Russell said Tuesday afternoon he had not been informed about his finalist status, but that he’d decided over the summer to begin looking at other options.
“Given the nature of the situation, it would be prudent to look around a little bit, yes,” Russell said.
A former deputy police chief in Richmond, Va., and director of the Virginia Crime Commission, Russell came to Augusta as deputy administrator in 2002. He was named Augusta city administrator in 2005 after the resignation of George Kolb.
Sarasota County, on Florida’s western coast, is home to 381,000 permanent residents, almost twice that of Augusta. According to The Mercer Group’s job listing, the county has a commission-administrator form of government in which the commission appoints only two employees — the administrator and the county attorney.
Russell has come under fire in recent months during efforts by a majority of commissioners to increase his authority to hire, fire and promote employees without commission approval. His July decision to promote and award hefty raises to 44 employees involved in a reorganization of several city departments surprised most of the 10-member commission, but the raises remain in effect.
He goes against administrators from York County, S.C.; West Palm Beach; Daytona Beach; and other Florida counties and cities also named among the top eight, according to The Post. Sarasota’s county commission is expected to narrow the field further next Tuesday.
Russell said thoughts about relocating his family to Florida were premature.
“There’s a lot of work that I’m proud of that we’ve done in Augusta, and a lot of work I want to do,” he said. “I just want to explore my options.”