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More changes expected after Russell firing

Administrator's severance, interim stand-in undecided

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 10:48 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 12:47 AM
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Monday’s firing of City Administrator Fred Russell might only be the start of change in Augusta government, although several details of Russell’s Dec. 31 exit remain undetermined.

Augusta commissioners surprised many, including their absent colleagues, when they voted 7-0 Monday to terminate Russell, who has held the job since January 2005, and begin immediately the search for “a qualified and certified administrator” to replace him.

Reached Tuesday, two of the absent commissioners – Donnie Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle – said they expected the commission to follow one of several scenarios for Russell’s departure and not the quick decision made by the group Monday. But, both said their issues with Russell over cutting the 2014 budget drove a decision they’d likely have supported.

“Everybody sensed that it was probably time for us to move on,” Smith said. “The budget caused some hurdles that could not be overcome.”

The decision to fire Russell, on a motion made by Commissioner Marion Williams that was seconded by Commissioner Mary Davis, means that a number of details must be worked out, including the amount, if any, of a severance package for Russell, and who will lead the city government from Jan. 1 until his replacement is found.

As a Level 4 senior executive staff member with eight years on the job, Russell is eligible for the maximum payout under the city personnel manual adopted in 2011 – six months’ salary and benefits or about $100,000 – if he is fired for any reason besides breaking state or federal laws.

That may not be all, however, and City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said Tuesday he “cannot comment on the enforceability of an engagement agreement” that also may bind the group as Russell moves on. Russell did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

During a prior term while he was mayor pro tem, Williams said he’d signed another contract that would double Russell’s severance if it remains in effect. The personnel manual doesn’t void any existing employment contracts.

“I don’t have any problem with paying him for six months,” Lockett said, expecting the personnel manual to supersede the earlier agreement with Russell. “He’s an honorable man.”

Williams and Lockett, however, expected one or more close comrades of Russell to follow him out the door, but wouldn’t get too specific.

“It could be in the not-too-distant future, that other people would be saying goodbye too,” Lockett said. “One thing I know for certain is it won’t be business as usual anymore.”

Williams, a frequent critic of city department heads, pointed to the law department.

He said MacKenzie had failed to provide the commission with exit scenarios for Russell in an effort to delay the process, while uncertainty about the severance package amount and other city matters, including parliamentary procedure at meetings, show the lawyer isn’t doing his job.

“They always cloudy the water; they don’t clear,” Williams said.

“It proves they have not been doing what they should as an attorney.”

Smith said MacKenzie had sent several exit options, including firing Russell outright and paying him severance, or a longer process involving hiring a deputy administrator and allowing that person to train under Russell until the administrator announced his retirement later next year.

He expected the commission to finalize a severance package for Russell next week.

Who will serve as interim administrator from Jan. 1 until the search is complete also remains uncertain.

Lockett had a clear plan in mind – make Deputy Ad­ministrator and IT Director Tameka Allen interim administrator and move Assistant IT Director Mike Blanchard to interim IT director. Blanchard previously served as interim human resources director.

Allen “has done an outstanding job in IT as far as succession plans,” something the commission made a priority months ago, Lockett said. “I’ve had conversations with (human resources
director) Ms. (Tanika) Bryant and Mrs. Allen and we’re all in agreement it can be done.”

Smith said in addition to Allen, other names had been considered for the interim slot, expected to last less than 90 days.

They include recently retired longtime Planning and Development Director George Patty, and former deputy administrator and Richmond County Correctional Institute Director Robert Leverett.

Smith said he didn’t know if either was interested in the job.

Comments (18) Add comment
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triscuit
2856
Points
triscuit 12/11/13 - 01:00 am
11
1
Geri Sams needs to go while

Geri Sams needs to go while they're in a firing mood.

jwilliams
750
Points
jwilliams 12/11/13 - 01:13 am
4
2
Hello triscuit, could you

Hello triscuit, could you please list the actual facts why Ms. Sams should be fired? I am simply asking so that I may become more informed.

teaparty
11313
Points
teaparty 12/11/13 - 08:11 am
11
2
Someone needs to fire the
Unpublished

Someone needs to fire the idiots on the commission.

FormerAugustaResident
95
Points
FormerAugustaResident 12/11/13 - 08:25 am
14
1
Buffoons?

I loved it when Bill Lockett said Russell said he made them look like a "bunch of buffoons". News for Mr. Lockett....the Augusta Commission has, and will continue to be, able to stand on their own 2 feet as buffoons. They certainly don't need Mr. Russell's help. What an embarrassement the commission is for a city the size of Augusta.

Riverman1
79612
Points
Riverman1 12/11/13 - 08:38 am
7
1
Corrections Director

So they are considering Richmond County Correctional Institute Director Robert Leverett. Heh, heh, heh. Sounds like the kind of experience Augusta government needs.

southern2
5433
Points
southern2 12/11/13 - 09:32 am
6
2
I recommend Woody Merry as

I recommend Woody Merry as the replacement for Fred Russell. I guarantee he would put this county back on track.

I suspect Rev Williams' preferred choice is former Augusta Engineering Department Director Teresa Smith. We got Round 2 of him....why not her?

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 12/11/13 - 09:39 am
5
2
Interim

Hey Commissioners, the job is called "interim" city administrator. Just go ahead and put Ms. Allen in that interim job and see how she does. If you like what she does, let her stay on as interim. If she fouls up, just put another one in the interim job and she can go back to her old job of deputy administrator.

Just keep on trying out interim administrators until you find one you can agree on.

tom31510
312
Points
tom31510 12/11/13 - 09:36 am
7
2
Russel firing

Oh, is Bill Lockett back in town, how does he have time for local meetings when he's so well travelled. I hope Russell fights this sudden discharge & it costs the city much more than it would had he left next month when he said he would. They were too scared to try before they saw I sign of weakness in his armor then they pounced when they commission was absent several members. I hope all the legal fees don't cut into the travel budget.

soapy_725
43555
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 09:48 am
0
0
News Flash: Ringling Bros. bids to manage ARC government.
Unpublished

News Flash: Ringling Bros. bids to manage ARC government.

soapy_725
43555
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 09:50 am
1
0
Ringling Bros. can provide a seamless transition. LOL LOL
Unpublished

Ringling Bros. can provide a seamless transition. LOL LOL

mchastainga
152
Points
mchastainga 12/11/13 - 10:08 am
7
2
clean house!

Russell was holding this bumbling mess of chaos somewhat together at least he has the kahunas to stand up to stupidity. Right or wrong for his leadership (or lack thereof) he isn't perfect but he has done a better job than anyone else under him! Now who will run the circus? My opinion - fire the whole bunch and start over with compentent people who actually care about the city and are not a bunch of mostly racist buffoons. Consider the fact that Russell is an "honorable man" - I'm guessing he won't lawyer up or call in some racist possee like some of the others would if they would have gotten canned in this manner.(YES YOU KNOW THIS IS TRUE- NAACP??) It is a HUGE disgrace to Augusta once again that this bunch let the media announce to Mr. Russell instead of giving him any sort of dignity about his termination- but what to you expect from a bunch of unprofessional, bumbling idiots? i'm ashamed we can't get them all out of their positions now - none of them are worthy of their pay! Augusta could be a great city .... with some actual leadership that is a team.

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 12/11/13 - 10:29 am
1
0
Frightening Thought

mchastainga posted:

Russell . . . isn't perfect but he has done a better job than anyone else under him!

That is a scary thought! Scarier still if it turns out to be true.

gcap
270
Points
gcap 12/11/13 - 10:39 am
2
0
I swore I would never do it.

But I did. I have arranged to move back to ARC. And it is too late to back out of the house purchase. This time I will not allow myself to become so angry at ARC government that I would as soon live in a tent in a frozen tundra north of Canada. I will think of the commission as lead actors in a situation comedy. It's healthier to laugh than to cry.

just an opinion
2366
Points
just an opinion 12/11/13 - 10:58 am
2
2
Look in the mirror folks.

This will help determine if your job is safe or not. Just wait till the commission goes to a 6-4 split. Marion and Lockett have won. Good night Detroit.

triscuit
2856
Points
triscuit 12/11/13 - 11:00 am
4
0
jwilliams...if you do not do

jwilliams...if you do not do business with the city, as in bidding, etc., Sams probably won't come up on your radar. Her department is suspect at best in the awarding of bids, tossing firms on technicalities while minority firms get by...ask some of Augusta's BEST builders and contractors how she run's her department.

dichotomy
30705
Points
dichotomy 12/11/13 - 11:13 am
6
1
The bottom line for is that

The bottom line for is that that this was totally unnecessary given that Russell had already announced he would retire soon. This is like the reverse of the old joke "you can't fire me, I quit". This is "you can't quit, we fire you". So, in reality, all they did was cost us more money.

Now Williams, Lockett, Mason, and the straphangers will walk around beating on their chest like they did something grand. In reality, all they did was organize a lynching party for a terminal patient who had an insurance policy with a double indemnity lynching clause. How STUPID.

They could have let Fred retire and used the time between now and then to look for a qualified candidate. Believe me, Tameka ain't it. But that gets to the bottom line justification for all of this. This is simply a move to fill every position of responsibility with black people.....so Williams can "understand" them. Administrator, city attorney, and look out white department heads. I wonder if Williams has ever listened to himself try to explain what he is asking. Williams should NEVER talk about somebody else making the water cloudy.

bright idea
713
Points
bright idea 12/11/13 - 11:43 am
2
0
There are people

who would gladly accept this job but you can bet they won't be competent. No competent, professionally trained and experienced administrator would ever work for this commission. They would have better choices.

pja5529
1418
Points
pja5529 12/11/13 - 12:59 pm
1
1
southern2

Woody Merry is just as contentions as Marion Williams is and would only worsen the city's image.

FormerAugustaResident
95
Points
FormerAugustaResident 12/11/13 - 01:49 pm
3
1
Why does it have to be this way?

Interesting...the city where I now reside (after decades in Augusta) is racially diverse in the population, city commission and various high level city leaders. Even though they have their moments, they are NOTHING like the Augusta government. Things get done, the city government (it's not a consolidated gov't) functions well, AND all seem to work together for the good of the residents of the city. In other words...very professional.

What does it say about a leader, any leader who (paraphrasing) said he didn't go into a meeting with a plan to fire Mr. Russell...but by golly it sounded like a pretty good idea. Never mind any kind of professional courtesy.

I honestly don't know why the Augusta city government is the way it is.

just an opinion
2366
Points
just an opinion 12/11/13 - 03:25 pm
4
1
To Former Augusta Resident

Because its "pay back time" brother. Just wait till the commission goes to a 6-4 black white split with a black mayor. Bottom line: certain people need not apply for jobs and for those with jobs: good luck

pja5529
1418
Points
pja5529 12/11/13 - 04:19 pm
2
0
Formeraugsutaresident

Something did get done....they got rid of someone who should have been gone long ago. This was a plus for the local government not a negative.

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