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Commissioners say they're committed to evaluating Russell

Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 7:32 PM
Last updated Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 9:47 AM
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Recent dissatisfaction with the work of Adminis­tr­ator Fred Russell may result in a first for the top city bureaucrat: an evaluation.

Russell  CHRIS THELEN
CHRIS THELEN
Russell

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.

Comments (15) Add comment
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Clemintime
195
Points
Clemintime 10/07/13 - 03:35 am
6
1
Be Careful Commission

The Commission has Russell right where Russell wants them.

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:37 am
0
0
Remember Robert Dixon before proceeding. Who knows who knows?
Unpublished

Remember Robert Dixon before proceeding. Who knows who knows?

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:38 am
0
0
The commission can't order a hit on a "made man". Criminals all.
Unpublished

The commission can't order a hit on a "made man". Criminals all.

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:38 am
0
0
Organized crime clothed as public servants. Garbage Tax??????
Unpublished

Organized crime clothed as public servants. Garbage Tax??????

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:40 am
0
0
Nothing short of organized crime could control for so many year
Unpublished

Nothing short of organized crime could control for so many year

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:40 am
0
0
Where is the grand jury? Investigation is a part of their job?
Unpublished

Where is the grand jury? Investigation is a part of their job?

soapy_725
43947
Points
soapy_725 10/07/13 - 05:41 am
0
0
The grand jury must have lost its power in consolidation.
Unpublished

The grand jury must have lost its power in consolidation.

jpbrig
275
Points
jpbrig 10/07/13 - 06:35 am
6
0
All appointment need review.

Commissioner need to review all appointment not just one as some commissioners want. The Clerk has not been review since consolation, 18 years, and working from home almost a year. This is not a work from job!!!

Riverman1
90288
Points
Riverman1 10/07/13 - 06:55 am
9
0
A Little Late

Goodness, does it even matter now? Russell has been here forever, has run a business on the side, has retired from the job in VA, is in his late sixties and has written regulations ensuring he will get a huge severance payment. He has done well in Augusta, to say the least.

I will say this, he should be a case study in how to survive as a public administrator when others couldn't. The others didn't last long, but Russell knew how to play the game well.

nocnoc
46991
Points
nocnoc 10/07/13 - 07:00 am
7
0
Just don't cut him loose

Personally I'd like to see the City Tax Admin role gone and the , Mayor position made something or eliminated.

Why have a Employed City Tax administrator have the power behind the scenes of pulling strings, get it out front and in the open.
Make the job an appointed position with a 5-8 year tenure unless cause is presented.

Of course this golden parachute stuff needs to go.
This ain't the 1990's and Highly skilled people are in abundance and its an employers market.

Riverman1
90288
Points
Riverman1 10/07/13 - 06:57 am
4
1
Nocnoc, you'd have to change

Nocnoc, you'd have to change the charter for that. Plus, no capable administrator is going to accept a 5 year only position.

nocnoc
46991
Points
nocnoc 10/07/13 - 07:11 am
7
0
Riverman - I agree with you on reflection

The 5 year limit is a tough sell.

I guess my point is The City Tax Admin has too much power and he seems to take it on his own to do as he pleases, make announcements and release info without commission PRE-Approval.

Since he is a County/ARC employee.
If I were on the commission I would call for a Rewrite of his operational guidelines, his job duties, scope of authority, and proper procedures of informational dispersal at a minimum.

Bizkit
34258
Points
Bizkit 10/07/13 - 07:21 am
4
1
When do we get to evaluate

When do we get to evaluate the Commissioners? Seems that might be more productive.

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 10/07/13 - 07:29 am
5
0
Evaluate commissioners?

We get to do that every election day....

Little Lamb
47895
Points
Little Lamb 10/07/13 - 07:30 am
7
0
Derelict

If they want to save us taxpayers from paying the golden parachute to Russell, they can document his failures to be responsive to their requests for information, his failures to adequately supervise his staff (leading to errors that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars), and the illegal gratuity he received on behalf of Betty Beard, along with many others I'm not aware of; and declare Russell derelict of duty.

That way, they don't have to pay the severance. If they fire him just because they want to, then they will have to pay the severance.

One other way out is to re-write the administrative manual to remove the severance package for Russell and MacKenzie first, and then after that has been amended, fire Russell. They can take care of MacKenzie later, but they've got to remove the tumor first.

Riverman1
90288
Points
Riverman1 10/07/13 - 08:03 am
5
0
Will He Be Grandfathered?

LL, interesting points and I agree that evaluations should be done to document Russell's shortcomings, but I doubt changing the severance package rules will eliminate his claim. Courts will probably say some kind of grandfathering of employees is necessary. The bottom line is all that can be done now is to start accumulating evaluations on him to get rid of him no matter the severance package outcome.

It's interesting the Deke's friend, Mary Davis, is leading this movement to evaluate him. I'd always thought Deke and Fred worked hand in hand, supporting each other.

Little Lamb
47895
Points
Little Lamb 10/07/13 - 09:06 am
7
0
Pay the Price

From a City Ink column published March 19, 2006 came this:

[On the] . . . commission agenda . . . was Mr. Williams' item to discuss the letter of reprimand he wants to be put in City Administrator Fred Russell's personnel file. You will recall, five elected officials received raises along with the rest of the city's employees because the day commissioners voted on them, Mr. Russell asked, "Do you mean everybody?" And commissioners said, "Everybody." But a tempest in a teapot boiled over when some tattletale accused Mr. Russell of breaking the law. The raises were rescinded, but not before Mr. Williams amended the motion to censure Mr. Russell. So far, nobody has written the letter of reprimand - or wants to. Mr. Williams tried to force the issue at the most recent commission meeting but got nowhere. Mr. Russell said he supposes he'll have to write it himself.

I'm sure no one will find a letter of reprimand or censure in Fred Russell's personnel file, but there are plenty of examples of Russell's ignoring commissioners' requests for information. That's not a crime, but it is subordination. And that is enough to be fired for cause. If he is fired for cause, they would not have to pay the severance, though Russell would likely sue for it.

It would be worth the severance package just to get rid of Russell.

Sweet son
11072
Points
Sweet son 10/07/13 - 10:21 am
4
0
We might have something going this time since two sides of

the color scheme are interested in Russell's performance now!

TrulyWorried
16063
Points
TrulyWorried 10/07/13 - 12:04 pm
5
0
Develop evaluation tool???

You mean they don't have one now and would have to create one? Is that the way to run a city???

corgimom
36482
Points
corgimom 10/07/13 - 12:56 pm
6
0
This should have been done

This should have been done after the TEE Center/parking deck debacle. This is long overdue.

Little Lamb
47895
Points
Little Lamb 10/07/13 - 01:43 pm
6
0
Smith

Fred should have been a package deal with the firing of Teresa Smith many years ago.

showboat
365
Points
showboat 10/07/13 - 05:31 pm
0
0
WHAT A JOKE, FRED WILL STAY
Unpublished

WHAT A JOKE, FRED WILL STAY GOT TO MUCH ON THE COMM!!!!!

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