Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Russell made scapegoat in Marble Palace mess

  • Follow City Ink

Well, of course they are blaming ex-Captain Fred Rus­sell for Au­gusta’s ship of state drifting into troubled waters. The folks who formerly sucked up to the captain are now bailing out on him.

To complaints of wasted space on the newly renovated second floor of the Marble Palace that houses the mayor’s suite, the clerk of commission’s office, perhaps the attorney’s offices and who knows what else by the time commissioners get through rearranging things, they’re saying Russell told the architect and Heery Inter­national’s Forrest White, the project manager on the $40 million renovation, to use it all up to justify Rus­sell having his offices seven floors away on the ninth floor.

Hence, the oversized reception area in the mayor’s suite, the overflow space outside the king-sized courtroom/commission chambers and two conference rooms on that floor.

Also Russell’s fault: a courtroom/commission chamber with one bathroom, substandard holding cells for inmates, and a cramped clerk of commission’s office with almost no storage space and no vault.

When Commissioner Joe Jackson asked why a vault wasn’t installed when it was “truly identified,” White said some of the planning was done before he got there, but he understands that Russell nixed it in 2008.

To hear some folks who might be blamed if Russell wasn’t, he’s also responsible for the failed $194 million sales-tax issue that was supposed to help pay the renovation bond debt, even though he’d walked the plank three months before commissioners tacked on unpopular, big-ticket projects such as $6 million for Paine College and $5.25 million for Boy King Deke Copenhaver’s Mills District. Six commissioners voted for the tax package without knowing exactly how the mills money would be used.

Russell’s also to blame for delays in issuing the bonds to finance the renovation, although he asked the board to appoint members to the Urban Rede­vel­opment Agency last year so they could move forward with that.

They didn’t get around to it until March, and three members of that board were found to be ineligible to serve after having voted on the bonds, so they had to appoint new members, which took forever and a day because they couldn’t agree on a procedure.

Anyway, the bonds still haven’t been issued, and the project’s about to run out of money.

It’s also Russell’s fault that for the past two years commissioners have refused to act on raising property taxes or cutting services, opting for one-time fixes and robbing reserve funds to the tune of $10 million to balance the general-fund budget.

Yes, he’s responsible for everything that’s bad, and they’re responsible for nothing.

WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO ESCAPE? I was thinking about how the person who dies, gets fired or leaves for greener pastures always gets blamed for everything that goes wrong in an organization for the next decade and decided to e-mail Fred my condolences.

I asked him whether it was true he ordered the wasted space on the second floor so he could be on the ninth floor. I said it made sense to me.

He e-mailed back to say that he’d like to set the record straight but had no interest in getting into a finger-pointing contest with commissioners because they had him outnumbered 10 fingers to one – though some of them were in an unmentionable place.

“I believe that you would find a common theme of their inability to form a consensus on issues such as tax increases, budget cuts, garbage service and other topics and then their desire to criticize the decisions that were made,” he wrote.

“In a lot of cases, they refused to even participate in the discussion and then were critical of the results. A few have even been critical of issues they voted for, or taken credit for successes they voted against.

“Remember, no matter how hard we try as individuals to do the right thing there is always a portion of society that had rather complain than work toward solutions; that had rather predict failure than work toward success; that would like to feed Augusta to the goats.

“And, no, I did not cause the ice storm.”

SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY: I responded by saying I admired him for taking the high road but that they were still going to drag him through the mud.

He e-mailed: “Augusta politics consumes people. The first day I was here, Sheriff Ronnie Strength told me that Augusta politics was like nothing I had ever seen before, and every day since then has proven him to be right. It is a shame that the city continues to suffer because of a lack of an agreed-upon vision and the inside baseball of local politics.

“I spoke regularly over the last 12 years of the untapped potential that we have as a community and believed that what most people saw as problems were actually strengths. Our diverse population, the mixture of rural, suburban and urban areas and that even our convoluted government structure could be made to function with an enlightened commission and a dynamic mayor. I am still amazed at the things we have accomplished, sometimes despite ourselves.

“As Fort Gordon continues to expand, and as GRU grows, our community will change. I hope that change is driven by the good people that love Augusta and not by the nay-sayers that bring nothing to the table but criticism and hate. … In history it has been only when people are willing to stand up to the nay-sayers and bullies that progress is made, and the same will be true for Augusta.

“Augusta politics consumes people, and what is left of me has no intent to continue to play. As MacArthur said, ‘Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.’ Apparently in Augusta old administrators just slip into the mud.”

IT’S NOT AN OPTICAL ILLUSION: Commissioner Bill Lockett wants to reallocate the space for commissioners and the mayor in the new commission chamber. He says the current setup of the dais gives the appearance of three separate groups as opposed to one cohesive group.

How he missed noticing is a mystery, but they are three separate groups.

PEOPLE POLL: Some commissioners want to buy their old commission chairs for $25 now that they have new ones. Do you think they should:

A. Be allowed to buy them

B. Not be allowed to buy them

C. Be strapped in them like dead Vikings, set on fire and pushed out to sea

HE’S RUNNING FOR THE BORDER: Former Commis­sioner Frank Spears will not run for the District 3 Columbia County Commis­sion seat vacated by the resignation of Charles Allen.

He’s got too many things going on, such as an upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua and a trip to Tuscany in the fall.

“I’m also going to be chairing Columbia County Youth Leadership,” he said. “I’d rather be doing that than raising money and putting up campaign signs. Honestly, my life is really good right now.”

CONDOLENCES: Helen Maddox, the wife of former Augusta Fire Chief Bill Maddox for 67 years, died last week. At the visitation, Maddox tripped over a rug and broke his hip and is now in University Hospital.

I MESSED UP DOING MY TWOTUMS: I was wrong about the cost of the Disneyland computer software training conference attended by 13 city employees.

City Finance Director Donna Williams will update commissioners on the correct figure at Tuesday’s meeting.

Comments (20) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 06/14/14 - 09:37 pm
3
1
Scape Goat

I guess Russel should go join the goats at the ponds and eat the grass. If he cleans up around the ponds nobody will remember the mess he has left Augusta to clean up.

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 06/15/14 - 02:50 am
7
3
Blacks deny any wrong
Unpublished

The black commissioners and the black dept heads will always blame a white when something goes wrong that the commission approved. Sounds like Washington and the black president blaming every president before him of wrong doing! If you run for office you have to accept the problems and fix them not just blame someone else. No one made you run for office if you can't get off your high horse then resign.

Young Fred
21146
Points
Young Fred 06/15/14 - 03:42 am
6
0
Russell

was slack! Unfortunately, (or not) he bore the brunt of all that was/is wrong.

Speaking of the "marble palace" have you seen the monstrosity Aiken has constructed?

Man, give bureaucrats an almost unconstrained budget and see what happens. Building suites for self-appointed royalty all the while complaining how other parts of the budget are underfunded.

Every time I drive up the Aiken bypass, I can't help but cringe when I drive by the new gov't center.

Is pretty, yet creepy at the same time.

Truth Matters
8097
Points
Truth Matters 06/15/14 - 04:06 am
3
9
"The black commissioners and

"The black commissioners and the black dept heads will always blame a white when something goes wrong that the commission approved. "

You mean the same way you are blaming blacks? I think this is a "Pot, meet Kettle" moment.

Graymare
3809
Points
Graymare 06/15/14 - 05:31 am
2
0
People pole:

C! LOL! Thanks for the laugh, Sylvia!!

MTBer
656
Points
MTBer 06/15/14 - 06:17 am
4
1
Leaders

They are just following the example set by our fearless leader in the White House. Just blame the person previously in office, for years, and years. Hey, they figure if it works for the most powerful office, surely it will work on a local level.

Riverman1
94310
Points
Riverman1 06/15/14 - 06:35 am
9
0
Fred Russell Speaking Out

You know these are things he has wanted to say for a long time. He’s certainly not biting his tongue. He survived far longer than other administrators in Augusta even though he was viciously attacked by many including the radio guy on a regular basis. He endured public berating's at Commission meetings by former drill sergeants. Heck, I ended up attacking him, too.

He is a wily ex-cop who used his street smarts to survive the dysfunctional city government for many years. Whoever is offered the administrator’s job will surely contact him before accepting. I imagine he will relay the same warning given to him by Ronnie Strength.

kissofdeath
474
Points
kissofdeath 06/15/14 - 06:54 am
1
11
The news media is full of tricks.

Mostly white people are blame President Obama for every little thing. They complained about Obamacare and the news media write articles like America is not happy with Obamacare when the poll taking who are really mad about Obamacare is not blacks. So how Republicans and news print articles saying 'Americans are not happy with Obamacare' when it's a certain race group do all the complaining for the past six years. They make a big issues about the POW swap for the release of five Taliban.

Stoner
88
Points
Stoner 06/15/14 - 07:10 am
1
10
GBI completed their

GBI completed their investigation into Fred Russell's deleted files hit a stone wall. Did race play a factor in why Russell did not face criminal charges? I know the probe would have been done different if Russell was black. They would raided his office liked they did former state senator Charles Walker and seized his computer and retrieved all deleted files with no problem. GBI office plays the race card.

Gage Creed
19462
Points
Gage Creed 06/15/14 - 07:15 am
2
0
Royal Marshall

I'm not even sure Royal Marshall could make sense of that

justthefacts
25483
Points
justthefacts 06/15/14 - 07:15 am
7
4
Sure kiss

If Obama was white, Republicans would love him!!

justthefacts
25483
Points
justthefacts 06/15/14 - 07:16 am
2
1
Interesting

Russell didn't answer the question. That's instructive.

nocnoc
49703
Points
nocnoc 06/15/14 - 07:28 am
7
0
I've heard a variation of this before

Blame it on BUSH.

But remember every change, every additional expense was approved by those other guys and gal's, called the commission.

corgimom
38761
Points
corgimom 06/15/14 - 07:32 am
5
0
Fred Russell AND the

Fred Russell AND the commissioners are to blame, they all had a hand in it.

seenitB4
98641
Points
seenitB4 06/15/14 - 07:51 am
2
1
current setup of the dais

There is a lot of truth in that ....the setup can portray superior positions....& we all know they "ain't" that!

Put a sandbox in the middle of the room---all sit around the box--give crayons & coloring books to the best behaved--when one messes up make him sit in the corner for at least 10 minutes...

Brad Owens
4922
Points
Brad Owens 06/15/14 - 08:17 am
7
2
Gotta love Fred..

At the past few meetings I have said that everyone is "Blaming the dead guy" talking about Fred.

I do think that it is interesting that he complains about "inside baseball politics" yet was one who played for one of the teams himself.

Also, when he says "I hope that change is driven by the good people that love Augusta and not by the nay-sayers that bring nothing to the table but criticism..." I can only assume he means folks like Al Gray that showed up at meetings and supplied commissioners with analysis on the construction contracts and proposals or Lori Davis who grabbed onto issues like a pitbull and refused to not have them addressed. All of which tore up his laid tracks from time to time.

Love him or hate him, Fred got most all of what he wanted, most all of the time. The best part was that he made everyone feel it was their idea when he did.

Anyway, my opinion is that he should shoulder his part of the blame for the problems and have his share of the credit for the successes, but neither the Commission nor the Mayor can be blamed for the choices he made as Administrator anymore than he can be blamed for their voting records.

One thing I will say is that he was accessible and I hope the new Admin is too.

corgimom
38761
Points
corgimom 06/15/14 - 08:27 am
3
0
Fred is equally wrong for

Fred is equally wrong for trying to pretend that none of it was his fault.

Parking deck built on somebody else's land, anyone?

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 06/15/14 - 11:08 am
1
0
Right Said Fred
Unpublished

He was just too sexy for this town.

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 06/15/14 - 12:49 pm
0
0
The Mess Called Augusta...

...government is a mixture of ills from the appointed officials as well as elected officials and to be blame one person in this fiasco is not right.

Fred Russell was for all intents and purposes was a court jester for the local radio talk personalities and the power behind the throne for an essentially clueless mayor.

It is time to leave the past behind and move Augusta into the later 20th century with a eye to the 21st century as soon as possible.

GnipGnop
12752
Points
GnipGnop 06/15/14 - 01:25 pm
0
0
It's all if their faults

And their is plenty to blame them all for!!!

GnipGnop
12752
Points
GnipGnop 06/15/14 - 01:25 pm
0
0
It's all if their faults

And their is plenty to blame them all for!!!

specsta
7181
Points
specsta 06/15/14 - 02:40 pm
3
2
The Ways of Augusta

badmoon426 wrote - "It is time to leave the past behind and move Augusta into the later 20th century with a eye to the 21st century as soon as possible."

Augusta in the 21st century? You mean, an Augusta that renounces its countrified ways, embraces diversity, strives to build greatness and become a first-tier city, stops making buildings with those ugly red bricks and use some steel, glass, and other modern building materials?

An Augusta that cleans up the avalanche of trash its streets, bulldozes rotten houses that are falling to the ground, has a street drainage system that doesn't flood after an afternoon sprinkle of rain?

Could you possibly mean an Augusta that rejects mediocrity and embraces excellence, that is determined to change the skyline after a 40-year hiatus, an Augusta that actually tries to engage new multi-million dollar developments that are not another slave-wage factory?

Are we talking about an Augusta that doesn't have a "church" on every corner and a murder/shooting/beating/body found every other night? An Augusta where citizens aren't Tazed/harassed by cops and wannabee cops because they didn't roll their window down all the way after a thugs-with-badges traffic stop?

This Augusta in the 21st century is an interesting concept.

But when Columbus, GA is allowed to steal the title of second largest city (Columbus, for God's sake!), not much will change unless the bums in office, the bums who run this city and the bums whose only goal is to line their pockets while the city suffers are ridden out of town like in a Western movie.

Back to Top
loading...
Search Augusta jobs