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Fred Russell's firing one of year's top stories

Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 8:42 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 4:53 AM
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This year marked the end of a sometimes tumultuous 12-year run in Augusta government for Fred Russell, the former Virginia police officer who served nearly eight years as city administrator.

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City Administrator Fred Russell stands atop the Municipal Building. His last day in office is Dec. 31.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
City Administrator Fred Russell stands atop the Municipal Building. His last day in office is Dec. 31.

Russell, who occasionally clashed with one or more of his 10 bosses on the commission, had offered to train his successor, then retire next year. But seven commissioners cut him short when they decided unanimously Dec. 9 to fire him, effective today.

“It’s sort of awkward to be fired with 21 days’ notice,” Russell, 61, said in an interview.

Commissioners cited no smoking gun or scandal that pushed Russell out of favor, only dissatisfaction with aspects of his job performance.

“I thought it was time for a leadership change. Even Fred acknowledged that he was tired and looking forward to retirement,” said Commissioner Donnie Smith, one of four new members of the panel in 2013. Smith, Wayne Guilfoyle and Grady Smith were absent for the vote to fire Rus­sell, but only Grady Smith has said he opposed the move.

Russell won’t be in city government after today, but he may not be leaving Augusta. Brandon Brown, Paine College Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement, said Monday the college is currently talking with Russell about a future at the school but no offer has been made.

Brown said Russell would be “ideal” in any kind of government relations position or as a lecturer. He said some kind of decision will be announced soon.

“Fred Russell would be a dynamic addition to anyone’s organization, and there has been some discussion, but no decision has been made,” Brown said.

The decision to move Russell out as city administrator was one some commissioners say should have been done before this month.

“I realized two, maybe three years ago that it was time for a change in the administration,” said Com­mis­sioner Bill Lockett, who with Com­missioner Alvin Mason un­successfully pushed in 2011 to fire Russell for awarding significant raises to 44 city staffers without mentioning it to the commission.

“Administrators don’t assume these positions and maintain them for the rest of their careers,” Lockett said. “There’s turnover on a pretty regular basis, not because they haven’t been doing a good job, but because we need people with different experiences and different viewpoints.”

Mayor Pro Tem Corey John­son said he was hoping for Russell to retire until the administrator commented on television that he was choosing his own destiny.

“Fred, in my opinion, has done a great job, especially for someone with no training in that field,” Johnson said. “I don’t have anything negative to say there. Did he make a comment that wasn’t in his favor? Yes.”

Johnson and Lockett said the votes came together behind closed doors and that the group decided then to move forward with the termination. “We had seven that were there, and they were on board,” Johnson said.

Ironically, it was a unanimous vote that did in Russell, who was known to cultivate only the six votes needed to pass a measure.

“This was the first time in almost four years on the commission 100 percent of those commissioners in attendance could sit down, analyze, compromise and make a honest decision,” Lockett said. “This is what was missing while I’ve been on the commission.”

The timing of the decision surprised most, including Russell, who was in his office when the commissioners emerged from the meeting and voted to fire him.

After the firing, Donnie Smith bemoaned the lack of a “clear-cut path forward” in replacing Russell.

One of Russell’s two deputy administrators, Bill Shan­a­han, resigned in the fall and hasn’t been replaced, leaving only Deputy Ad­min­is­trator Tameka Allen, who doubles as Information Technology director, to oversee the government bureaucracy.

The commission named Mayor Deke Copenhaver as acting administrator in Al­len’s absence, but it will likely select another interim administrator to serve until Russell’s successor is found.

The 2011 personnel manual affirmed that top city staff are guaranteed a severance package unless fired for breaking the law. Because of his length of service, Russell is eligible for six months’ salary and benefits, and he said that’s what he expects to receive.

As administrator, he earned $136,859 annually plus a car allowance, retirement plan and insurance, significantly less than the average pay in most metro Atlanta cities and counties that responded to a 2012 Georgia salary survey.

Since 2009, commissioners had complained the most about being kept unaware on details, such as the raises, contractual details related to the Augusta Convention Cen­ter and a recent decision to designate downtown Augusta as a slum to fund Municipal Building renovations. They said they also became tired of Russell’s presentation of a budget with a significant deficit that he expected them to choose how to fill.

Russell counted among his accomplishments the city’s ability to maintain “a high level of services,” despite slow growth,; completion of Augusta the convention center, the sheriff’s administration building and expansions at Charlie B. Webster Detention Center,; revitaliza­tion in the Laney-Walker historic district,; and the arrivals of Costco, Cabela’s and Star­bucks’ new soluble products plant

ABOUT THE SERIES

DEC. 21: The merger of Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities became official in 2013.

DEC. 22: A federal judge ended the Richmond County school system’s desegregation order after 40 years.

DEC. 23: Five members of Evans-based vein procedures company The Vein Guys were killed in a Feb. 20 plane crash at Thomson-McDuffie County Airport.

DEC. 24: The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office wanted to address traffic concerns in 2013 with Operation Thunder, and it did, to the chagrin of many motorists.

DEC. 25: The city’s transition to once-a-week garbage, recycling and yard waste collection did not go smoothly.

DEC. 26: After a dozen years in the making, the Augusta Convention Center opened in February.

DEC. 27: Safety concerns after high-profile assaults and a proposed slum designation catapulted downtown Augusta back into the spotlight in 2013.

SATURDAY: Delays in consultations led to the deaths of three cancer patients at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

SUNDAY: North Augusta officials approved a $144 million public-private development that would include a baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

MONDAY: Rain played havoc with farmers, event planners and others in record-setting fashion.

TODAY: The Augusta Commission fired city Administrator Fred Russell in December.

Comments (18)

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corgimom
19217
Points
corgimom 12/30/13 - 09:54 pm
4
4

You know what I keep

You know what I keep wondering?

In years past- like with the previous Commisaon- the weak excuse given for keeping him on was "Well, who would we get to replace him?"

Funny how all of a sudden, that's no longer a concern.

corgimom
19217
Points
corgimom 12/30/13 - 09:55 pm
5
4

Although that first picture

Although that first picture up top looks like he's thinking of throwing himself off of the roof of the Municipal Building. Who thought up that idea for a picture?

Riverman1
70479
Points
Riverman1 12/30/13 - 10:17 pm
8
1

Deke Being Named Administrator

Hearing Deke’s hesitant comments about being made the administrator and not wanting to do all the ordinary tasks reminds me of the story about Calhoun, the little running back.

This team is getting beat bad by the reigning state champion and finally the crowd starts shouting “Put Calhoun in.” Calhoun is this little guy who has never been in a game. As the score hit 70 to 0, the chant becomes louder. Even the opposing fans join in the chant. The score hits 80-0 and the coach puts Calhoun in.

One play after another takes place and Calhoun doesn’t get the ball. All the fans on both sides are now chanting to give Calhoun the ball. Both bands take up the chant with drum beats. The announcer even chimes in over the PA. The coach is screaming, “Give Calhoun the ball.” Finally, the exasperated quarterback calls time out, walks to the center of the field, faces the fans, cups his hands around his mouth and hollers, “Calhoun says he don’t want the dang ball.”

raul
3358
Points
raul 12/30/13 - 11:39 pm
11
1

It will take at least six

It will take at least six months to bring on an administrator. Fred could have continued to run the day to day operations. But no, because some commissioners got their feathers ruffled at Fred's off handed comment about "choosing his own destiny", the city has no competent people to fill in, or in best light, will be stretched performing more than one job, and the city pays six months severance pay they wouldn't have had to otherwise pay, if Fred retired. Smart move, commissioners, NOT.

justus4
93
Points
justus4 12/31/13 - 03:58 am
0
0

Stop with all the hand

Unpublished

Stop with all the hand wringing cause this action was long overdue. But guess what's gonna happen next and its a hoot; the deputy administrator is being marginalized and someone else given signing authority. Huh? Filling this position will become a three-ring circus and will reflect poorly on the commissioners, but then again, that's nothing new.

nocnoc
30773
Points
nocnoc 12/31/13 - 08:00 am
3
0

If Fred moves to Paine

1st think tuition increases, then him teaching City Government classes, allowing him to clone himself a 100x times over.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:19 am
0
0

Deke will become administrator. ARC is strange that way.

Unpublished

Deke will become administrator. ARC is strange that way.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:20 am
0
0

Paine loves Pain. Confusion, Money issue, corruption, etc

Unpublished

Paine loves Pain. Confusion, Money issue, corruption, etc

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:23 am
0
0

..and Satan took Fred to a high place where he could see the

Unpublished

whole city and offered him all he could see if he would bow down and worship......

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:24 am
0
0

policeman to ARC Administrator. There is a Santa Claus. LOL

Unpublished

policeman to ARC Administrator. There is a Santa Claus. LOL

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:25 am
0
0
soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 12/31/13 - 09:26 am
0
0

Maybe Bill Hiers or Robert Dixon could use a job? You think?

Unpublished

Maybe Bill Hiers or Robert Dixon could use a job? You think?

Little Lamb
40104
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/13 - 09:39 am
3
1

Paine

Fred Russell took the helm eight years ago with the city in a positive cash flow position. In the subsequent eight years he has taken the city to a situation where it needs to dip into the reserves each year to balance income with outgo.

Yeah, that's just the sort of manager Paine College needs.

corgimom
19217
Points
corgimom 12/31/13 - 10:02 am
1
2

Hey, LL, Paine College is

Hey, LL, Paine College is already on the ragged edge financially.

But I'm just so glad that Fred's mother is not around to see this.

bdouglas
3500
Points
bdouglas 12/31/13 - 10:06 am
5
0

Fred sez:

"“It’s sort of awkward to be fired with 21 days’ notice,” Russell, 61, said in an interview."

Awkward? He ought to count his blessings. Most ordinary folk who get fired get handed a box and escorted to the door!

raul
3358
Points
raul 12/31/13 - 10:16 am
3
0

@bdouglas. That's true.

@bdouglas. That's true. Remember when CNN did that several years back? Just watched a move, The Company Men, with Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, et al. It can happen to any of us. Food for thought.

Bizkit
21868
Points
Bizkit 12/31/13 - 10:20 am
4
0

Paine already has a financial

Paine already has a financial officer-but they have been fired every year the last four years. If he is a lecturer and on staff he will take a huge loss of income-if he is in an administrative function he will likely get a raise. But like most who go to Paine they leave within a a few short years of abuse and trying to ignore the blatant illegal activities such as changing student grades, graduating students who have failed, passing students who have failed. The last graduation a lot of the faculty didn't attend to protest all the students who were allowed to graduate after a dean changed grades illegally is the rumor from good sources.

Little Lamb
40104
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/13 - 10:21 am
2
0

Ruining the City

Raul posted:

It will take at least six months to bring on an administrator. Fred could have continued to run the day to day operations.

The trouble is, Raul, that the way Fred (What, me worry?) Russell was running "the day to day operations" was terrible. He was running up red ink every year that had to be made up from the reserves, which are dwindling, naturally.

The trouble was that the commission had lost their trust in Russell. When that occurs you have to cut your losses. A city cannot function when its elected leaders do not trust their highest-ranking employee.

lifelongresident
1311
Points
lifelongresident 12/31/13 - 11:06 am
0
0

well now the property owners

Unpublished

well now the property owners can at least take a deep breath for a moment and not have to worry about any more "haircuts", at least for now. the next step is the put in place policies to get out of the "welfare/public housing business" and force all the welfare moochers/parasites/leeches out of richmond county and decide to build more and bigger jails so the rats/roaches/vermin can be safely stored until they are dead or no longer a threat to the law-abiding citizens..whichever comes first

Sweet son
8219
Points
Sweet son 12/31/13 - 11:31 am
4
0

Fred, you are a tough guy1

I wouldn't have stayed around as long as you did! It is incredible how you put up with a particular group of buffoon commissioners for such a long time.

You made mistakes as do we all but you didn't deserve to be treated the way you were.

corgimom
19217
Points
corgimom 12/31/13 - 11:40 am
4
0

He should've been fired after

He should've been fired after the parking deck debacle.

Only in Augusta does the city build a parking deck on land they don't own.

David Parker
7919
Points
David Parker 12/31/13 - 11:55 am
3
0

hard to look past that one

hard to look past that one corgi. The guy may be competent but letting million dollar construction occur on unowned land is not a slight miscalculation. It shows a potential to fail at the most crucial of tasks. Augusta deserves better.

Little Lamb
40104
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/13 - 12:00 pm
2
0

Gratuity

Don't forget the $25,000 "gift" from the developer who said it should be given to a charity of the Commission's choice, and instead, Russell used it to pay for bariatric surgery for a city employee.

(BTW, the former city attorney stated for the record that taking such a gratuity from the developer was contrary to Georgia State Law and the city's conflict of interest ordinance. But that didn't bother Russell.)

Little Lamb
40104
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/13 - 12:07 pm
2
0

Professor Russell

From the story:

Brandon Brown, Paine College Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement, said Russell . . . would be “ideal” . . . as a lecturer.

Surely Brandon Brown and Paine College cannot be seriously considering Russell to teach their students!

Also:

“Fred Russell would be a dynamic addition to anyone’s organization,” Brown said.

I can think of many adjectives to describe Russell, but “dynamic” is not one of them.

raul
3358
Points
raul 12/31/13 - 01:19 pm
2
0

@Littlelamb. I agree that

@Littlelamb. I agree that Fred needed to go and I believe he would have retired in 2014. The commissioners had enough trust in him that they had informally agreed to that. Then Fred ruffled the feathers which brought the decision to fire him. I can't explain it any other way given the retirement decision to the firing decision was only a matter of a few days. Well, maybe it will work out for the best.

my.voice
4192
Points
my.voice 12/31/13 - 11:31 pm
0
1

Jump!

Jump!

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