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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.

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msouleusa
5
Points
msouleusa 12/09/13 - 07:43 pm
3
14
Great Move

I think Alvin Mason would be the best choice to replace him.

nocnoc
47192
Points
nocnoc 12/09/13 - 07:48 pm
10
2
Where were the 3 ?

Well, according to all the NEWS Reports and 2 private discussions I have had.

This item was not on the official meeting agenda and the meeting was scheduled to cover Riverwalk Beautification issues and other mundane things, I understand.

Even the the Press did not think to cover this ho hum meeting, until the termination notice was released.

I am willing to bet the 7-0 votes was agreed on privately between
the downtown focused commissioners right after Fred Announced his resignation next year.

So unless professional causes were the reason, the TAXPAYERS will now pay FRED a vacation bonus for the termination even tho he planned to quit anyhow.

BTW: I Understand, Commissioners Grady Smith, Donnie Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle were absents that were scheduled ahead of time.

This also lends some speculation, why they voted NOT to recess for the Holidays.

sand gnat
629
Points
sand gnat 12/09/13 - 08:03 pm
7
4
Top Ten CIty

How much more improvement can Augusta make? As I recall, it
has been advertised as a "Top Ten City" in the nation for a couple
of years!

ralphinga
1601
Points
ralphinga 12/09/13 - 08:03 pm
5
3
Should have known better!

Knew that Fred should have balanced the budget with new taxes. Keep dipping into the Reserve to pay for operations and you get fired.

jack2006
106
Points
jack2006 12/09/13 - 08:04 pm
11
5
This is cause for a celebration!

Property taxes have gone up each year under his administration and doubled in some neighborhoods.

You can’t drive a 100 yards without driving over patched roads in Augusta, having a road repair where the hole has been left open for months on end, or flooding. Where’s the money?

Every time when there was a shortage in the budget, increasing property taxes was the only answer or solution that came from Mr. Russell.

Also, whoever came up with the bright idea about the trash being added to the tax bill and the one day a week pickup, needs to follow Mr. Russell. What a fraud for the city collecting money for trash on vacant homes. The service isn’t being performed, so why is the city collecting on it.

It’s time to clean house starting with the Water Department and ending up with the Board of Education.

Before another tax increase, we need all of the projects that they have already collected tax dollars to be completed or return the money back to the tax payers.

If you don’t pay property taxes in Richmond County, you have no say here.

Thanks for letting Mr. Russell go.

nocnoc
47192
Points
nocnoc 12/09/13 - 08:27 pm
9
2
Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/13 - 08:30 pm
4
3
Airport

Riverman1 posted:

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

That's an excellent question. The fire department chief reports to the city administrator. Russell has (had?) the authority to direct that Fire Chief James not make a fuss about the airport fire department having authority to decide when to call in for reinforcements and when they thought they could handle the fire themselves.

Chief James was way out of line and Russell stood by mute thinking to himself, “What, me worry?”

mosovich
832
Points
mosovich 12/09/13 - 08:44 pm
7
4
Crack me up..

Some of you people crack me up.. You think because they fired him he won't get retirement? You think raising your taxes is a reason to fire him? So I don't know if you noticed or not, it takes money, and to get money, you gotta have tax revenue.. Where do you get that? From the people.. The taxes here are dirt cheap! Also, I find it interesting that these clowns fired a man that was going to retire in the next seven months.. They may now end up, we the taxpayers end up, paying more to him than we would've if they'd just let him work out till his retirement.. Now we will be paying an ex administrator and a current one..

just an opinion
2839
Points
just an opinion 12/09/13 - 09:24 pm
4
4
It really just took 1 vote to fire him

Remember- the 5 minority commissioners will always vote to fire anyone of the wrong color as long as they can just get 1 vote. Just think what it will be like when the split is 6-4!

ColCo
905
Points
ColCo 12/09/13 - 09:20 pm
6
4
Really?

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.”

Mr. Lockett, you don't need any help with your look, you do a fine job of managing that yourself.

If you really cared about Russell making you look bad, you would have led the charge to fire him after he was the guest speaker at the Exchange Club luncheon last year when he challenged the commissioners to fire him with Grady Smith present in the room.

Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/13 - 09:23 pm
3
4
Headlines

Dichotomy asked:

. . . so what the hell made this ambush so necessary?

They needed to do it today so the story would make headlines in this week's Metro Courier.

Graymare
3620
Points
Graymare 12/09/13 - 09:29 pm
6
1
They need to hire someone

They need to hire someone with a proven record of managing a city's money and not just a "former so and so". Times are tough everywhere but RC needs someone with real expertise. But, can the commission even recognize a good hire? Not too sure about that one!

jack2006
106
Points
jack2006 12/09/13 - 09:31 pm
6
1
Here's the problem

Every employee that has a bad job performance thinks that they are entitle to sue the City of Augusta (tax payers) when it time to fire them.

They need to be fired quickly and stop allowing them to hang around to prolong their bad performance and giving them an opportunity to look for a reason to sue the City of Augusta (tax payers) in return.

This is one big fault that I find with the City of Augusta.

Their job is the service of the tax payers and the community not self-enrichment bad employees/bad businesses from the tax payers.

The City of Augusta is paying more in lawsuits than improvement for The City of Augusta.

This madness must to end.

Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/13 - 09:51 pm
4
3
Lockett

ColCo posted:

If you really cared about Russell making you look bad, you would have led the charge to fire him after he was the guest speaker at the Exchange Club luncheon last year when he challenged the commissioners to fire him with Grady Smith present in the room.

If you recall, Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett were the only two commissioners to call for Russell's firing and to back it up with votes last year. Commissioners Brigham and Bowles turned back the tide.

ColCo posted:

. . . Lockett said, “You just don’t talk about your employer in that way.”

Some folk just put too much emphasis on that dissing thing.

Russell's continuing dismissal of the requests of commissioners is what finally did him in. Russell left a large wake of messes and financial distress behind him. It will take years for Augusta to dig out from under his complacency and the incompetence of his staff. Weak performance of city hall workers will be a long term leprous legacy of Russell.

Bizkit
34338
Points
Bizkit 12/09/13 - 09:55 pm
7
2
I agree with Spec and Russell

I agree with Spec and Russell is just the fall guy for the commissioners incompetence. Too bad they can't all be fired too. Solve most of the county's problems win one foul swoop.

dichotomy
36257
Points
dichotomy 12/09/13 - 10:06 pm
7
2
"This item was not on the

"This item was not on the official meeting agenda and the meeting was scheduled to cover Riverwalk Beautification issues and other mundane things, I understand......BTW: I Understand, Commissioners Grady Smith, Donnie Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle were absents that were scheduled ahead of time."

nocnoc.......That makes sense and is probably the way it happened. But I think this just points out the fact that you cannot trust the "core" group of downtown commissioners. And that is why EACH and EVERY commissioner needs to make EVERY meeting EVERY time and be ON time and stay the ENTIRE time. The core group of downtown commissioners cannot be trusted.

I am not saying that Russell should not have been fired. He should have been fired a year or two ago. I am just saying that this action should not have been taken at THIS meeting when it was not on the schedule, and had not been mentioned to the 3 commissioners who they knew were going to be absent.....IF, in fact, the other 3 did not know this was going to happen.

Those 7 commissioners have something in common with another administration in power right now. I don't trust ANY of them any farther than I can spit. These 7 commissioners have a complete disregard for the citizens in 3 districts in this county and those people's representatives. Regardless of which way the other 3 commissioners would have voted, this is a disrespectful, under handed, conniving, sneaky tactic. This just proves the mentality and morals of the core downtown commissioners.......low and bad.

Regardless of their motives and whether or not this was some kind of deal, this issue should have been put on the agenda and voted on at a meeting where all commissioners were present.

Susan McCord
132
Points
Susan McCord 12/09/13 - 11:26 pm
7
2
Dichotomy, yes it was a

Dichotomy, yes it was a surprise for many that it happened today, including me. As far as I can tell, however, the three commissioners who were absent (unsure about mayor) had legitimate excuses. The group that was there - who may have known their colleagues would be absent - just decided to go ahead and do it.

Riverman1
90455
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 12:16 am
3
5
LL, there is something

LL, there is something involved with the airport although I can't get into it here. I'm thinking the commission had some information.

Newsflash
1925
Points
Newsflash 12/10/13 - 09:05 am
5
3
Good luck .......

Good Luck Augusta....folks on both sides of the river are pulling for you .

sandhillbilly
15
Points
sandhillbilly 12/10/13 - 02:22 am
5
1
Its about time........

Its also time to send his crony Director of the Housing Dept. Chester Wheeler packing as well.

wildman
1195
Points
wildman 12/10/13 - 05:07 am
3
3
Entertainment

This is the best and you don't have to pay for it. Oh wait, tax payers will pay and pay dearly. Six months severance with benefits, pretty good deal if you ask me for someone who was fired. Only in Augusta.

Clemintime
195
Points
Clemintime 12/10/13 - 06:18 am
4
1
Memo to Fred Russell

"One call, that's all"

seenitB4
93610
Points
seenitB4 12/10/13 - 07:25 am
2
3
Will he??

Will he get more $$ to go this way....??

nocnoc
47192
Points
nocnoc 12/10/13 - 07:34 am
3
3
SUGGESTION TO ARC COMMISSIONERS

BEFORE you hire, a person with the job of County Administrator,
REWRITE/UPDATE The Job Description

After the last 2 County Admins there should have been some very clear Lessons Learned that could be applied like:

Clearer defined boundaries and Authorities,

Clearer Chain of Command Communication processes,

Clearer responsibilities and a process to evaluate them annually or semi-Annually.

Require the position to proportionately distribute attention and Taxpayer Funds Countywide using a public viewable budget and formula.

Again, why do we have a Mayor's Position?
We are a Consolidated Government, not a city anymore.
We ARC, not Augusta.

Augusta went Bankrupt remember and the county bailed them out!

pearlthesquirrel
786
Points
pearlthesquirrel 12/10/13 - 08:00 am
0
0
IF...
Unpublished

If F.R. was that terrible (7-0 vote...at least for now), how the sam-hell or who the sam-hell did he know to get hired in the first place? Yee-haw, welcome to Augusta, Ga. people - Georgia's second largest city but number one when it comes to buffoonery.

...point to ponder
779
Points
...point to ponder 12/10/13 - 08:11 am
3
2
Fired... and still on the job!

If you actually 'fire' someone then you best empty the person's desk and escort the person out of the building.

This is best described as negotiated termination.

The commissioners did not do this very well. Oh, that's right, they don't do anything really well!

justthefacts
24009
Points
justthefacts 12/10/13 - 08:16 am
3
2
"they don't do anything really well!"

Don't know about that points to ponder, I think a reality show about these guys would be great. " The Commissioners of Augusta, Ga". Wednesdays @ 9:00 on the Comedy channel.

Riverman1
90455
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 08:24 am
1
3
Russell Hints At Severance Pay

In the video Russell said something about him not being convicted of a crime or anything like that. That means he's going to demand the full severance pay package that HE designed for employees who were let go "without reason." I can't remember the exact details of the package, but it will be in the hundreds of thousands.

Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 12/10/13 - 08:38 am
0
4
For Cause

Susan McCord reported:

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. . . .

If the personnel manual says that, then it needs to be amended. A person fired "for cause" should not be eligible for severance. In Russell's case, there were many commissioner requests for information that went ignored by Russell and his staff. That is insubordination, and it is sufficient reason to be fired.

Point To Ponder is correct. By not having a deputy from the Marshal's department stand by while Russell clears his desk, and then said Marshal's deputy take away Russell's keys, cell phone, computer (remember hard-drive-gate?), etc., then escort him to the Marble Palace exit door — the city is setting itself up to have many valuable records spirited away by Russell in the next twenty-one days.

soapy_725
43949
Points
soapy_725 12/10/13 - 08:43 am
0
0
Remember Robert Dixon before proceeding. Who knows who knows?
Unpublished

Remember Robert Dixon before proceeding. Who knows who knows?

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