Augusta commissioners are making good on a promise to hold the city administrator more accountable through an evaluation process now under development.
Fred Russell, a former Virginia deputy police chief, hasn’t been formally evaluated since he was named interim city administrator in 2004, at the resignation of former administrator George Kolb.
After several on the commission took issue with Russell not keeping them informed about key city business – such as a recent proposal to declare downtown Augusta a “slum” to borrow money at lower rates – an effort pushed by commissioners Donnie Smith and Mary Davis to hold Russell accountable got under way.
On Wednesday, eight commissioners attended a work session where Tanika Bryant, the city’s Human Resources director of six months, updated them on numerous ongoing initiatives in her department, including how commissioners can develop performance goals and criteria and use them to rate the performance of “direct reports.”
Only three city employees report directly to the commission: the administrator, the city’s general counsel and the city clerk. The remainder of city staff, including non-elected department heads, report directly to Russell, although six commission votes can fire any of them.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, a former federal investigator who has rallied for years to implement formal human resources processes, said he was “proud” of the attendance at Wednesday’s work session.
Lockett and Commissioner Alvin Mason led an effort two years ago to fire Russell for secretly awarding raises to several dozen employees whose job duties had expanded under a restructuring of city government, but only four commissioners voted to fire him.
Russell and General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie attended the session Wednesday, while city clerk Lena Bonner is on leave due to illness.
“Once a year is nowhere near enough for me to get the feedback I need to be successful,” Russell offered.
“The goal is to put in place processes that allow us to handle human resources situations… with direct reports that go by procedure, rather than emotion,” noted Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
Two other direct reports specified in the city charter, the Equal Employment Opportunity director and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise director, are vacant, MacKenzie said.
Davis said after the meeting she was pleased with Bryant’s extensive effort and progress made at the session.
“I’m excited that we’re going to establish evaluations for direct reports,” Davis said, “to keep everybody on the same page.”
Davis said the process will “make sure our direct reports know what to expect from us… and what we expect as well.”
Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who took office this year, said he looked forward to completing the evaluation process, but wouldn’t look backward in time to do it.
“All I can do is look at their performance as I’ve seen it since I’ve been on the commission, and rate them accordingly,” Fennoy said.