After public, individual interviews with each of the four finalists for Sarasota County administrator, Russell received only one vote from the five Sarasota County commissioners. The commission voted to begin contract negotiations with Randall Reid, the current Alachua County, Fla., administrator.
Russell spoke at length about Augusta during his interview, conducted during a public commission meeting that was broadcast on Sarasota County’s Web site. He described Augusta’s job market as including “a lot of call centers” but soon to benefit from a new chemical manufacturer building on the city’s south side. He described how in 2002, he’d planned to return to work in the Virginia governor’s office after short stint as a deputy city administrator in Augusta.
Asked how he’d help Sarasota County cope with a recent purchasing department scandal that led to the resignation of the county’s administrator, Russell noted that the news media might be paying a “back-sided compliment” in paying attention to an issue “not as bad as a lot that goes on in this world.”
Russell described tax-funded efforts under way in Augusta’s Laney-Walker neighborhood – where displaced Hyde Park residents will be relocated under federal guidelines, and new nontraditional student housing will be built.
Several of the four candidates interviewed Tuesday were asked about news articles and broadcasts that cast them in a negative light, and Russell was no exception, with Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton questioning Russell about Augusta’s ownership of only air rights to the Trade, Exhibit and Event Center parking deck.
Russell answered at length, mentioning some community bitterness over the TEE Center’s management ties to the publisher of The Augusta Chronicle, and describing details that did change during a four- or five-year period, but denying any wrongdoing.
“I have nothing to hide in that closet whatsoever,” he said.
Reached after the meeting by e-mail, Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson, who cast the only vote in favor of hiring Russell, said she liked his response to questions about improving business relations and his experience with sports tourism.
“He had a refreshing sense of humor and really cares about the morale of government employees,” she said. “Augusta is lucky to have him.