You might think that with former Augusta Administrator Fred Russell out of a job and out of the mayor’s race, his chief critic and tormentor, Commissioner Marion Williams would let it rest. But you’d be wrong. He’s pushing for a criminal investigation into missing e-mails Russell acknowledged deleting. He’s also accusing Information Technology Director and interim Administrator Tameka Allen, or someone in her department, of aiding and abetting Russell.
Well, everybody seems to have forgotten that the city hired a $150-an-hour, Cornell University-trained Atlanta attorney seven years ago, during Computergate I, to give an impartial opinion on whether Williams and then-Commissioner Calvin Holland should get copies of Russell’s hard drive, and he said no.
COMPUTERGATE II: Williams said he’ll ask his colleagues to support him in seeking the criminal investigation, but if they don’t, he’ll do it himself. And if the sheriff’s office doesn’t want to investigate, he’ll take them on too.
“If they don’t want to do a preliminary investigation, I’ll be questioning them then,” he said.
Asked what would be accomplished by pursuing the matter, Williams said the point was that Russell had been planning to run for mayor after being the “top point man” in the government.
“What conversations did he have? What deals were being made?” he asked.
And, he said, it won’t take six votes to authorize an investigation because former Sheriff Ronnie Strength didn’t have six votes authorizing him to investigate whether Williams had illegally obtained a copy of what was on Russell’s computer hard drive seven years ago.
Williams had bragged about having a copy but said he hadn’t looked at it because he didn’t know whether he’d be breaking the law, but the sheriff determined Williams never had a copy.
A HARD DRIVE AND A HARDER HEAD: Computergate I began with the firing of staff attorney Vanessa Flournoy in 2007 by then-City Attorney Eugene Jessup – who shortly thereafter got fired himself – after he confiscated the hard drive from her city computer and saw she’d been using it for her private business. Suspecting Russell might have been using his computer for his private business, Holland asked an Information Technology employee for Russell’s hard drive.
Commissioners censured Holland, and because of the controversy hired Atlanta attorney Quinton Seay to determine whether Holland had violated city ordinance. In his opinion letter, Seay stated that Holland had violated only the intent of the ordinance, not the law itself, by seeking the information.
Seay also rejected Williams’ request for a copy of the hard drive information on grounds it was too broad and that a hard drive does not constitute a public record under Georgia law and is not subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act.
Dissatisfied with Seay’s opinion, Williams called an attorney in the state attorney general’s office who confirmed the opinion. Still dissatisfied, Williams called the attorney’s bosses who referred him to the first attorney he talked to.
Undeterred, Williams said he was going all the way to Washington for the answer he wanted.
“I’m going to get it even if I have to hire a lawyer,” he said.
Then after commissioners fired Russell in December, Williams demanded to see what was on his computer. And when he finally got a printout, there was almost nothing there. And he’s been on the warpath ever since.
VENGEANCE IS MINE, SAYETH THE COMMISSIONER: “If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander,” Williams said last week. “They fired two black females over a computer hard drive. If it was that important for
them to be fired, it’s important now for us to find out what was on Russell’s computer.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle disagrees and says it’s time to move on.
“If we keep accusing, we’re going to get ourselves in a lot of trouble,” he said. “If he was doing something wrong, why would he have it on his computer? They already went through his hard drive. There’s nothing there.
“We’ve done fired the man. We’ve done discredited the man. We need to move on.”
Commissioner Donnie Smith said Williams will have to pursue an investigation without commission support.
“He ain’t going to get six votes, I can tell you that,” he said. “We’re moving on down the road. We’ve got millions of dollars in economic development between the cancer center and Cyber Command. We can’t waste our time on some nonsense like this.”
SPLOST OR SPLAT? City officials hope to have a SPLOST VII package ready by March 10 to go before voters May 20, but if they aren’t any better at cutting the $700 million wish list than they were at balancing this year’s budget, it won’t happen.
At the first SPLOST VII work shop last week, Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he won’t support the package if east Augusta drainage problems aren’t addressed. He said when he came to Augusta in 1965, it was flooding in east Augusta and it’s still flooding in east Augusta.
Actually, a $4 million street and drainage project was completed on East Boundary in 2009, and a $4 million street and drainage project is ongoing in east Augusta funded from SPLOST VI.
Some $4 million SPLOST dollars will be used in an estimated $18 million street and drainage project in the area. The project bounded by Sand Bar Ferry Road, Interstate 520, Laney-Walker Boulevard, East Boundary and Marion Homes is under design. Money from the proposed rain tax will also help fund the eight-phase project.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said his district hasn’t gotten its fair share of tax money in the past and that he won’t vote for the tax package if there’s not “an equal and equitable distribution of the proceeds.”
District 5 has had only small SPLOST projects, but design is underway on an estimated $14 million to $15 million Rocky Creek drainage improvement project that is three or four years down the road. Lockett says nothing’s being done, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers says the project’s moving too fast.
Commissioner Alvin Mason said he’s not supporting sales tax dollars for the cancer center until Georgia Regents University adds the word “Augusta” to the school’s signs. You’d better get a move on, GRU. March 10 will be here before you know it.
YOU’LL LOVE LOVE LETTERS: Just in time for Valentine’s Day WGAC radio talk show host Austin Rhodes and WRDW News 12 anchor Meredith Anderson will repeat last year’s stunning performances in Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer-nominated classic. The play will be at 8 p.m. Friday, at Jabez-Hardin Performing Arts Theater in Evans. Rhodes as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Anderson as Melissa Gardner will captivate you with their funny, heart-wrenching performances.
Proceeds from the play will benefit Storyland Theatre. For ticket information, call (706) 736-3455.