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Russell fired as city administrator

Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 3:16 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 7:18 PM
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In a surprise move, the Augusta Commission voted 7-0 Monday to fire Fred Russell, the city administrator since 2005.

The Augusta commission voted to terminate Fred Russell, effective Dec. 31, and have the city human resources department begin a search for his replacement.  STAFF/FILE
STAFF/FILE
The Augusta commission voted to terminate Fred Russell, effective Dec. 31, and have the city human resources department begin a search for his replacement.

After more than an hour behind closed doors, the commission emerged to vote to terminate Russell, effective Dec. 31, and begin the search for his replacement.

Commissioner Joe Jackson said he hadn’t entered the session with plans to fire Russell, but agreed it was time.

“The more and more I thought about it sitting there – about the budget, about how the SPLOST money that’s been allocated and spent and we haven’t even collected it yet. I like Fred as a person, but at the end of the day when you’re dealing with almost a $1 billion budget and you try to give ideas on balancing it and how to make Augusta a better place, it’s like we take two steps forward and three steps back,” Jackson said.

Over the last three years, commissioners have floated the idea of firing Russell, but never had six supporting votes. Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett led the charge in 2011, after Russell awarded hefty raises to 44 employees without the commission’s knowledge, but other commissioners cited the lack of a suitable backup in deciding not to terminate him.

Recently, however, Russell’s handling of the 2014 budget, which he presented with an $8 million shortfall, city maintenance issues and a decision to designate downtown as a “slum” to issue low-interest bonds to fund most of a $40 million renovation of city hallrevived an effort to evaluate his job performance. It had the support of several commissioners – Donnie Smith, Mary Davis, Marion Williams – who took office this year.

Donnie Smith, along with commissioners Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, were absent for the vote Monday.

Among the issues, Lockett and Jackson said Russell was too friendly with or influential over certain employees and department heads, who tended to agree with him rather than speaking independently to the commission.

Russell’s replacement “better be able to stand on their own and do what’s right,” Lockett said. The city charter “didn’t want anybody who wasn’t elected to have that much authority,” he said.

Lockett said Monday’s decision happened in part because of a news report last week in which Russell bragged he was leaving on his own terms.

“I wanted him to leave under amicable conditions,” but Russell “made us look like a bunch of buffoons” in the report, Lockett said. “You just don’t talk about your employer in that way.”

Russell exceeded his authority in influencing General Counsel Andrew Mackenzie, Lockett said. Senior Staff Attorney Wayne Brown, not MacKenzie, advised the commission in the closed-door session. MacKenzie and Russell were sent out.

“I think he’s gotten himself too close to the fire,” Jackson said of Russell, citing Russell’s continued employment of friends – such as convicted murderer Don D’Antignac – who don’t appear to do much work as they accrue years toward their city retirement. “At the end of the day, I’m tired of the perpetual dance. We’re kicking the can down the road,” he said.

A former Richmond, Va., deputy police chief, Russell was hired as deputy administrator in 2002 by former Augusta City Administrator George Kolb, who knew him from Richmond. He earns $136,859.

Flanked by Mason, Davis, Lockett, Donnie Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson after the decision, Russell expressed surprise about his firing but spoke in positive terms about the city’s future.

“Working for 10 people is tough, although all these jobs are hard. Augusta has its particular challenges, most of which are ones we’ve created for ourselves… I look forward to continue to be a part, in some way,” said Russell, whose wife Teresa is from the area and works as a deputy Richmond County marshal.

“Two weeks from now, a year from now, they’re going to wonder who Fred Russell was,” he said. “That’s what this is all about, is moving forward. Until a few minutes ago, it was moving forward with Fred, today it’s moving forward without him… The timing was a little bit quicker than I anticipated, but I’m not in charge of that.”

Asked about his termination package, Russell said “I assume if I was fired for no specific violation of a federal or state law, that package would be on the deal. That’s well within the parameters of what people in my position would expect.”

The decision should come as no surprise, Mason said. “I think most of the community knows the commission has been having discussions about either his termination or his release. The timing may be a surprise, but the final result of Mr. Russell departing is not a surprise.”

The unanimous vote indicates “it’s not a black vote, it’s not a white vote, it’s a vote to relieve him of his duties effective Dec. 31,” Mason said. “It’s over.”

As a senior executive staff member under the city personnel manual, Russell is eligible for six months’ severance if terminated, even for cause, so long as he didn’t break laws, although whether he’ll receive a settlement or its amount has not been determined, several commissioners said.

Commissioners said Russell’s replacement must be a certified city administrator, “one who has gone through appropriate training, has the appropriate degree and who is certified as an administrator,” Mason said. “That is something we unanimously agreed on, is having a headhunter do that search.”

Since Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan’s resignation in August to take a job in York County, S.C., the city has just one deputy administrator on staff – Tameka Allen, a city employee since 1992 who also serves as Information Technology director.

Allen “wears two hats” already, said Johnson, who expects a decision by Tuesday on whether Allen, someone else or possibly someone from outside city government would serve as interim administrator until the position is filled.

Comments (74) Add comment
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David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/09/13 - 03:18 pm
10
2
First

Gasp. SUrprised a little.

dwb619
104050
Points
dwb619 12/09/13 - 03:21 pm
8
2
WOW

I normally don't comment on Augusta's issues,but,
D**N!

fishman960
1504
Points
fishman960 12/09/13 - 03:24 pm
9
3
Bout time!

Now who are they going to replace him with?

SemperParatus
3225
Points
SemperParatus 12/09/13 - 03:42 pm
19
0
Missing commissioners

Why would Wayne Guilfoyle, Donnie Smith and Grady Smith miss one of the most critical votes during their terms as commissioners whether they be for or against Fred Russell? My hope is that they will go on the record as quickly as possible and inform their constituents where they stand.

billcass
1045
Points
billcass 12/09/13 - 03:42 pm
18
4
I predict

2 things: Russell will sue, and it will cost the city taxpayers a bundle, and 2) they will have a hard time finding a replacement. Who in their right mind would take that job given how dysfunctional the commission is?

chiqagolil
46
Points
chiqagolil 12/09/13 - 03:49 pm
16
4
Full Disclosure Needed

When firing someone who is paid for by the people of Augusta, isn't it appropriate for the people to know WHY?

my.voice
5167
Points
my.voice 12/09/13 - 03:51 pm
14
2
News last week was FR was

News last week was FR was considering retiring by next year. I guess the comms wanted to validate that.

Marinerman1
5458
Points
Marinerman1 12/09/13 - 03:54 pm
16
4
I'm AMAZED.

I figured that given the fact that Fred had made it known that he was going to retire, the SMART thing, whether you like him or not, would be to begin a search for his replacement, and let them EASE into this HELL-HOLE called the City Administrator. Further proof that the Commission is NUTS !

Little Lamb
48966
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/13 - 04:04 pm
14
6
@ Marinerman1

The assistant director will prove to be one of two things when she begins being the acting, or interim, city administrator:

1. Competent

2. Incompetent

Russell was worse than incompetent. He was derelict of his duty, he was insubordinate, he was AWOJ (absent while on the job), he was underhanded, and he did not worry about any of those things.

Anything would be an improvement.

Little Lamb
48966
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/13 - 04:14 pm
6
5
@ chiqagolil

For reasons why, see the above comment.

triscuit
3266
Points
triscuit 12/09/13 - 04:18 pm
8
3
Little Lamb, the words

Little Lamb, the words "Anything would be an improvement" can't hold water in this town.

Fiat_Lux
16419
Points
Fiat_Lux 12/09/13 - 04:20 pm
10
3
Ka BOOM!

Merry Christmas, Fred.

triscuit
3266
Points
triscuit 12/09/13 - 04:22 pm
21
3
3 white commissioners

3 white commissioners "absent" for the vote, paves the way for a black female to take the job. I am NO fan of Russell...and hope this is NOT racial...but it IS Augusta....

willie7
1047
Points
willie7 12/09/13 - 04:34 pm
0
0
It was stupid to fire him .
Unpublished

It was stupid to fire him . He had already said he was going to retire.
Should had negoatiated with him. Now it going to cost the city a bundle of cash.
Should fire those commissioners---- we need to change the charter and give the mayor more power. Augusta is going down the hill each day.

specsta
7137
Points
specsta 12/09/13 - 04:35 pm
25
4
Scapegoat?

Dang, that's cold. It would be proper for the commissioners to list their reasons for letting Fred go.

Incompetence abounds in that commission chamber. If you've never attended a meeting, I would encourage you to do so. It is an amazing thing to see such narrow-minded, vision-lacking, short-sighted, deaf-to-constituents, disrespectful folks make their feeble attempts to govern the second largest metro region in GA.

Clown class is in session on Tuesdays at 530 Greene Street.

galaxygrl
1350
Points
galaxygrl 12/09/13 - 05:04 pm
18
1
Sylvia Cooper

Sylvia Cooper mentioned in her column yesterday that he wouldn't be there next year. Was she talking about his retirement or his being fired? I agree,
no sane, competent person would ever want to work for the "fools on the hill"!

belle
311
Points
belle 12/09/13 - 05:11 pm
0
0
'Bout time!!
Unpublished

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me for ten years straight, don't let the door hit you where the good Lord...well, you know.

Sweet son
11585
Points
Sweet son 12/09/13 - 05:13 pm
18
2
Bet Fred is smiling about now!

Figure up his settlement and wait and see what Tameka does. It will all be interesting and not without commission controversy. The show is about to begin as if we didn't already have a show with the commission's antics!

belle
311
Points
belle 12/09/13 - 05:12 pm
0
0
Oops
Unpublished

Twice, shame on me.

internationallyunknown
5018
Points
internationallyunknown 12/09/13 - 05:21 pm
7
9
Those black commissioners be

Those black commissioners be ON IT! Didn't they call for him to be fired loooooooong ago?

Riverman1
93489
Points
Riverman1 12/09/13 - 05:26 pm
19
2
Well, yeah, he is much better

Well, yeah, he is much better off with this causing that huge package to kick in for being fired. If he had stayed a few more months and then left voluntarily he wouldn't get anything. Brer Rabbit just got thrown in the briar patch.

Riverman1
93489
Points
Riverman1 12/09/13 - 05:50 pm
15
2
George Eskola had the piece last week

George Eskola had the piece last week with Russell on WJBF where Russell said he would step down BY the end of next year. I posted a comment about it. But the interesting thing is three of the commissioners who voted against him today were interviewed on camera and said they were happy with him leaving some time late next year. Marion Williams did say if they found somebody by June or so it could be sooner. I wonder what made them change their minds and decide he had to go now?

dichotomy
37417
Points
dichotomy 12/09/13 - 05:48 pm
10
2
"Why would Wayne Guilfoyle,

"Why would Wayne Guilfoyle, Donnie Smith and Grady Smith miss one of the most critical votes during their terms as commissioners whether they be for or against Fred Russell?"

I'm certain I have the same question. Somebody needs to explain this to the public. He needed to go but the man had already said he was going to retire soon so what the hell made this ambush so necessary. And why did three commissioners miss this particular lynching. Where were they and why weren't they there.

Pops
14327
Points
Pops 12/09/13 - 06:06 pm
10
4
Tameka Allen

is the new person. Bank on it.........

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 12/09/13 - 06:10 pm
15
3
Fred Russell

He has been an arrogant and incompetent administrator. Should have been let go way before now.
Only way he saw to get money was to raise home owners property taxes.
Good bye Fred....

pgapeach2
1397
Points
pgapeach2 12/09/13 - 06:17 pm
7
3
Dichotomy, they might

Dichotomy, they might have fired him because it was cheaper than letting him retire. If his severance pay was suppose to be $100,000 for being fired, that's much cheaper than let him receive a retirement check. I just want to know when are the voters going to wise up and fire some of the commissioners.

itsanotherday1
48270
Points
itsanotherday1 12/09/13 - 06:24 pm
16
2
BINGO RM!! I thought the

BINGO RM!! I thought the same about the briar patch.

As far as the three missing commissioners; one reporter said it was not unusual to skip meetings when there is not an agenda requiring their presence. Apparently, today's meeting had only committee business scheduled that did not involve those three. If that is true, then the other 7 pulled a fast one.

Riverman1
93489
Points
Riverman1 12/09/13 - 06:48 pm
9
2
I wonder if the trouble at

I wonder if the trouble at the airport with that lawsuit has any bearing on Russell being fired?

sawgrass
2641
Points
sawgrass 12/09/13 - 07:04 pm
11
1
Mayor Pro Tem Johnson

I'm not defending Fred Russell but I don't understand Mr. Johnson's explanation. Russell has done a good job for the city but it's time to move in a different direction. What does that mean? If he has done a good job, why fire him? What direction does the city need to move under Mr. Russell's oversight? Again, I have never been a fan of Mr. Russell but the explanation doesn't make sense to me.

curly123053
5359
Points
curly123053 12/09/13 - 07:11 pm
17
2
Ho Hum

As far as I am concerned the entire dysfunctional commission needs to be sent packing.

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