3 top picks to replace City Administrator Fred Russell named

Landing a job as city administrator would be “the crowning touch of my career, to manage in my hometown,” for Augusta native Janice Allen Jackson. But commissioners and the mayor said they’ll weigh her application against two other well-qualified finalists who interviewed Wednesday for the top post.

The former city manager of Albany, Ga., Jackson joined Stephen Layson and Oscar Rodriguez as Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s top picks to replace Fred Russell after a nationwide search. Layson is the chief administrative officer of Bibb County, Ga., and Rodriguez is the former town manager of Taos, N.M.

Augusta Commission members and Copenhaver spent hours interviewing the three candidates Wednesday but will not make a final decision for two weeks. Georgia open records laws require they wait two weeks after releasing the names of finalists before making a final decision.

Jackson grew up on Cherry Avenue off Laney-Walker Boulevard in east Augusta and graduated from the Academy of Richmond County in 1981. She completed a bachelor’s degree in public policy and English at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1985 then a master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in management at Duke University in 1989.

Jackson was hired as assistant city manager of Albany, population 76,900, in 1993. She described Wednesday being called a year later into heavy service as public information officer during the Flood of 1994, which caused great destruction in southwest Georgia. In 1996 she was named city manager, a title she held through December 2004. In 2005 she became general manager in the county manager’s office in Mecklenburg County, N.C., for which Charlotte is the county seat.

She touched on many topics during the interview, from the “vacating of the central city” where she grew up and the importance of integrity and professionalism, to creating budgets and conducting employee evaluations.

Asked by Commissioner Bill Lockett about the role diversity had played in her career, Jackson reflected back on her time at Richmond Academy, whose student body at the time was approximately half black and half white and from all income levels.

“That gave me the opportunity to know what it was like to be around everybody,” she said.

Layson has served as chief administrative officer since 2005 in Bibb County, which consolidated with Macon this year. He previously held a variety of positions, including vertical projects manager for Reynolds Plantation, a federal projects coordinator for a Putnam County boot camp and a small business owner in Eatonton.

Layson has a bachelor’s degree from Georgia College & State University in criminal justice from 1980 and has held (on an interim basis) several department head positions in Bibb County. He also competed with Augusta’s former deputy administrator, Bill Shanahan, for a county manager job in York County, S.C., last year. Layson lost the position to Shanahan.

Asked whether public or private funds should be used to spur development, Layson said “it depends on the temperature of the people who are supplying the money.” He also described working in Macon-Bibb’s “strong mayor” new form of government as good but “still in the honeymoon period.”

Rodriguez characterized Augusta as “a beautiful community” and “great place to raise my family” during his first visit Wednesday. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1980 and a master’s degree in city planning from MIT in 1982 and writes articles for management publications.

His descriptions of the numerous facets of government he’d managed over the years, such as contracts, drew praise from commissioners, who peppered him with questions about management.

“You don’t need to be doing contracts that your people can’t follow that are above their ability,” he stated.

Asked how to foster growth for new arrivals, such as workers associated with Cyber Command at Fort Gordon, Rodriguez said “create for the highest quality of life you can create” for those high-income workers to enjoy themselves.

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