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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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GodisSoGood
892
Points
GodisSoGood 12/10/13 - 09:44 am
5
4
Idiots!

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.”

Seriously???? Stating that he would leave on his own terms makes the commission look like a bunch of buffoons??? No, how about the stupidity of the commissioners makes them look like buffoons!!!

You can bet that had he been of a darker skin color, he would have played trump card in his favor. Now they say it's not a black or white thing. Oh how the tables would turn if he were a minority. (In truth he is a minority because the demographics of Richmond County are 90+% black.)

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 12/10/13 - 09:49 am
0
0
who will serve bottled water? Wander around like a bored child?
Unpublished

who will serve bottled water? Wander around like a bored child?

harley_52
23456
Points
harley_52 12/10/13 - 09:53 am
2
3
"....there is something involved with the airport....

....although I can't get into it here. "

I know something YOU don't and I'M NOT telling...

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 10:02 am
2
4
Harley, lol...good

Harley, lol...good observation. You stuck it to Riverman on that one.

harley_52
23456
Points
harley_52 12/10/13 - 10:08 am
2
4
"You stuck it to Riverman on that one."

Riverman needs little help.

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 10:17 am
2
3
Augustaboy, yeah, it did look

Augustaboy, yeah, it did look like Mason was back there smiling, daring Russell to make a move. Heh, heh, heh.

porsche
11
Points
porsche 12/10/13 - 10:37 am
2
1
Fred Russell

Fred should never have been made administrator. He did not have any experience, none what-so-ever. Anytime you see a person in management walking around without paperwork in his hand, he's downright lazy, lazy.

Little Lamb
46060
Points
Little Lamb 12/10/13 - 10:40 am
2
3
Bottled Water

As Riverman has pointed out, Russell needed to keep his hands free so he could ply the commissioners with chilled bottled water during the meetings.

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 10:58 am
1
3
Advantage of Getting Another Ex-cop

If they do an outside search for an administrator, it's going to be funny if the candidates come here and watch a commission meeting. Russell was a retired cop, maybe they can get another one who still has arrest powers to keep commission meetings in order. He may need some help cuffing Mason, though.

wondersnevercease
9218
Points
wondersnevercease 12/10/13 - 11:13 am
0
0
Only in Augusta
Unpublished

Best comedy show in town.....buffoons indeed!

Bulldog
1327
Points
Bulldog 12/10/13 - 11:30 am
2
0
Temper - temper

Apparently firing Fred was not on any agenda. Indeed the meeting was supposed to be only a committee get together with a very limited agenda. Hence the absence of three of the commissioners and our Mayor. Apparently someone lost their temper and it went downhill from there...

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 11:33 am
2
3
Thinking back over previous

Thinking back over previous administrators it seems consolidation heralded conflicts with the administrators and commission. Russell fired, Kolb fired, Oliver left on his own after much criticism. Pete Brodie, the old city administrator, was the one who rarely came under fire. Is there something about the design of consolidation that creates this apparent conflict with administrators?

countyman
20149
Points
countyman 12/10/13 - 01:25 pm
2
4
Why are some people trying to

Why are some people trying to portray this as racial? The majority of negative comments around the city/metro related to Fred usually came from other white people. The vote was also unanimous which means the white commissioners that were present wanted Fred gone too.

The funny thing is how people continue to bash all of the commissioners no matter the circumstance. People like Mary Davis and Donnie Smith haven't even been on the commission long and some people want all of the commissioners gone already..

The local government has created so many problems in the past were the local population(especially the older population and the residents living outside of RC) will never be able to fully move on...

I've been saying we need to elect some younger people, member of the LGBT community, additional women, and non black/white members.

We keep electing people over the age of 50-60 who don't associate with other races outside of work. Then we expect for the commissioners to work together for the better of the city.

Goodissogood... The demographics of Richmond County are close to 52%-54% black and not your imaginary over 90%... The trends across the US also show minorities are going to the suburbs and whites are coming back to the urban core.

Darby
25736
Points
Darby 12/10/13 - 01:41 pm
5
1
Too bad there's not a similar,

simple way to fire some of those commissioners.

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 12/10/13 - 01:44 pm
1
3
"I've been saying we need to

"I've been saying we need to elect some younger people, member of the LGBT community, additional women, and non black/white members."

Yeah buddy.

Dixieman
15012
Points
Dixieman 12/10/13 - 02:06 pm
3
1
Uh-huh

Another new low for the Augusta/Richmond County Commission.
Dixieman sez: keep Fred and let them go!

BamaMan
2363
Points
BamaMan 12/10/13 - 02:52 pm
2
1
Not nice?

When asked if this was the nice way to do this, Marion Williams said "Nice? this is Govmint." HAHAHAHA

Conservative Man
5567
Points
Conservative Man 12/10/13 - 05:18 pm
0
1
Observations.....

....Fred was part and parcel of the systematic looting of millions from this city through various TAD's, URE's, TEE Centers,etc....not to mention one of the "facilitators" of the wholesale mortgaging of the future tax income of RC through the failed TAD 1 and subsequent attempt to ramrod through TAD 4.....he should have been fired years ago.....

What should happen next is that those who helped him should be run out of town on a rail, but because THEY have had ownership in this city for generations , THAT won't happen...at least not anytime soon...

My prediction is , that no matter WHO the city hires to replace him, as long as we have the same "players" behind the scenes RC will continue to be the laughingstock of GA politics..

Not sure what the reference about the "airport" thing is but my guess is it's a reference to the current director who came here after being "let go" from two previous, rather large, airports for "financial malfeasance"...
Not conjecture...a matter of public record..

If this is what is being alluded to it speaks volumes about the level of so-called "talent" Augusta usually attracts...

Maybe it's common knowledge among fellow "travellers' that RC is a great place to work if you have (ahem) questionable ethics...

If past history is an indicator of future behavior, Augusta is most surely doomed....

SemperParatus
3225
Points
SemperParatus 12/10/13 - 07:00 pm
1
0
For the record, who were the

For the record, who were the commissioners that voted to fire Fred Russell?

truthsetmfree
94
Points
truthsetmfree 12/10/13 - 08:00 pm
1
0
in a surprise move

There was no surprise to anybody that had a brain. Fred and his wife cleaned out his office weeks ago. He was told in late September early October that he would be gone and it was suggested he start planning his exit strategy. Retire or be fired was his ultimatum. Fred decided to let them fire him because retiring didn't have the same exit benefits. This was a smoke and mirrors show by Fred and Marion, and they think that we are as stupid as they are.........

GodisSoGood
892
Points
GodisSoGood 12/11/13 - 08:42 am
1
0
@countyman

I stand corrected on the percentages. However, 54.7% black is still a majority over 39.1% white. In the Richmond County school system, the percentage of whites is 19.13% vs 73% blacks.

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