A behind-the-scenes effort led by Augusta Commission members Mary Davis and Donnie Smith bubbled over during Tuesday’s closed-door legal meeting, when Russell, a former deputy police chief hired as Augusta deputy administrator 11 years ago, was sent out from the meeting for commissioners to discuss their options.
On Friday, Davis and Smith said they are committed to measuring Russell’s job performance against stated objectives and believed they had the support of “most, if not all” of the commission.
“We are going to discuss how to implement an evaluation process for the administrator because he works for the 10 of us,” Davis said.
Under Augusta’s charter, the administrator, most non-elected department heads and a handful of other city staffers report directly to the commission. Known as senior executive staff, they serve at the pleasure of the commission, have no appeal rights and are eligible for severance pay if fired without cause.
In prior years, the commission has toyed with the idea of increasing Russell’s power to that of a manager, with ultimate authority over all city staff. But lately commissioners have questioned his authority when they’ve been left out of the loop on big government decisions.
One issue, which remains tabled after the entire commission balked, was a decision to designate downtown Augusta as a “slum” to borrow money at reduced rates for renovating the Municipal Building.
Davis said implementing an evaluation process for Russell will “help us stay on the same page and have open communication about our successes or areas (for) improvement.”
Smith said commissioners have become “furious” after learning after-the-fact about decisions that run counter to the present commission’s goals of basic city beautification and infrastructure maintenance.
“Everybody’s just tired of the status quo,” he said. “We want our city to improve and we are not content with the way things are handled.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett, along with Commissioner Alvin Mason, pushed to fire Russell two years ago for awarding 44 secret raises to city staff as the rest endured furloughs and pay reductions. Before a standing-room-only audience on Aug. 16, 2011, only four commissioners – Matt Aitken, J.R. Hatney, Mason and Lockett – voted in favor of firing Russell. Aitken and Hatney have since left office.
Commissioner Joe Jackson has cited other issues with Russell, such as his reliance on a yet-unapproved sales tax referendum to fund projects in the works now.
“He keeps talking about SPLOST like we’ve already got it in hand,” Jackson said.
Lockett was noncommittal about Russell on Friday, saying the city’s human resources director ought to develop an evaluation tool and succession plan for all critical positions. Lockett has requested both on Monday’s administrative services committee agenda.
Russell was out of the office and unavailable for comment Thursday and Friday.
The commission has a called legal meeting for noon Monday, after which follow committee meetings.