Changes to Augusta personnel manual reviewed

One of the biggest critics of powers awarded to City Administrator Fred Russell in the new city personnel manual has softened his position.

Calling himself “nitpicker-in-chief” as he presided over a Thursday workshop on revising the manual, Commissioner Bill Lockett conceded toward the end that he didn’t have a problem with the administrator having authority to hire, fire and award raises, only with the manner Russell did so after the manual was adopted in March.

“If he uses the authority fairly, I don’t have a problem with that,” Lockett said.

When Russell exercised those powers, backdating 44 raises to employees reassigned as he reorganized several departments, Lockett and Commissioner Alvin Mason called for Russell’s resignation.

Excepted from Lockett’s approval Thursday, however, was the administrator’s authority to reorganize the government. He said that provision, cited in a lawsuit filed by a local pastors’ group, violates the charter because it passed with only six of 10 commission votes.

The manual leaves hiring and firing of department directors, the administrator, the city clerk, general counsel and several other top positions to the commission, and an earlier provision granting the administrator “exclusive” authority to recommend candidates for those top jobs has already been struck.

Also up for discussion Thursday was the manual’s nepotism policy, the administrator’s authority to overrule personnel board decisions and provisions awarding top executives severance equal to up to two years’ salary if fired without cause.

Lockett and Commissioner Corey Johnson specified Thursday that they wanted a provision allowing the administrator to overrule the personnel board returned to the previous policy in which the board could overturn terminations.

Former Human Resources Director Rod Powell, now working as a city consultant on revising the manual, supported all the revisions presented, including extending the city’s nepotism policy to public safety departments, which previously were excluded, and limiting executives’ severance to nine months’ salary.

“The things that really polarize people, I think they need to come out of there,” Powell said.

The proposed changes will go before the administrative services committee in three weeks, then before the full commission for its approval.

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about the city’s personnel manual at augustachronicle.com.

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