City Ink: Russell made scapegoat in Marble Palace mess

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.

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