The bigger problem

Embattled City Administrator Fred Russell is leaving. So what's left?

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Augusta commissioners might think they’re ridding local government of a major problem by firing City Administrator Fred Russell.

But a much bigger problem lingers – the system of government itself.

Russell’s termination came Monday on a 7-0 commission vote, with three members and the mayor absent. It was a surprise depending on whom you ask. The vote itself was unexpected, but the case to fire Russell had been constructed over at least three years.

In 2011 it was revealed that Russell lavished raises on 44 city employees during economically lean times and without the commission’s knowledge. What saved his job was the lack of a suitable replacement.

More recently, in September, Russell floated a proposal to fund Municipal Building renovations by issuing low-interest bonds, with the controversial condition under Georgia law that 594 acres of downtown would be designated a “slum.”

Those reasons – coupled with city maintenance issues and supposed overexertion of influence over some employees – culminated in Monday’s vote.

But as unpopular as Russell was among commissioners, the commission is more unpopular among Augustans.

Our local government is a skewed monument to dysfunction. It lacks united leadership. And that’s the big picture that extends beyond Russell’s firing – there still is no unified vision among city leaders about how to move Augusta forward and to successfully leverage the CSRA’s formidable assets.

Russell had a lot of responsibilities. Execution of those responsibilities was not always flawless. But he possibly was one of the most steadying influences in Augusta’s government. Now he’s gone.

This page has not always been a fan of Russell’s low-key approach to dealing with people. But he survived as long as he did – eight years as city administrator and three years as deputy – because of that laid-back approach. In Augusta’s political climate, that’s an amazing feat. But as long as Augusta’s flawed system of government lives on, the city likely won’t find someone who will last as long.

The next city administrator should be what Russell wasn’t: an adroit people person. Public relations is no small part of the job. And he didn’t seem eager to build the support from within or without that could have kept him in his job.

But exactly who, at this point, would want that job? Ten commissioners in Augusta’s government means the city administrator has 10 bosses – 11 if you count the mayor. Who would willingly take on that nightmare? The job seems almost designed to thwart meaningful progress.

“Working for 10 people is tough, although all these jobs are hard,” Russell said Monday. “Augusta has its particular challenges, most of which are ones we’ve created for ourselves.”

The commission just created its latest “challenge” with that 7-0 vote.

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seenitB4
85748
Points
seenitB4 12/11/13 - 08:14 am
6
1
Right hand should know

The right hand should know what the left hand is doing...& where it is at all times...

In 2011 it was revealed that Russell lavished raises on 44 city employees during economically lean times and without the commission’s knowledge.

curly123053
4570
Points
curly123053 12/11/13 - 08:41 am
7
0
?

The citizens of Richmond County must like their dysfunctional type of government because they keep electing dysfunctional commissioners. I think it was a bad mistake consolidating Augusta and Richmond County. I don't remember things being this dysfunctional before consolidation. Can anyone remember that far back?

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 12/11/13 - 08:46 am
9
2
It's Another Reconstruction

The changeover in Augusta government and administration is nearly complete. Aided by the carpetbaggers and scalawags the "locals" from Laney Walker and other neighborhoods are doing a modern Reconstruction reminiscent of after the Civil War.

deestafford
26594
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deestafford 12/11/13 - 09:16 am
10
0
Let's face it...

Let's face it. When the number one consideration of how to "organize" and set up a government is race relations you are going to be dysfunctional.

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 12/11/13 - 09:28 am
6
2
There was one major problem

There was one major problem before consolidation. The city was about to go bankrupt. They couldn't pay the bills.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:37 am
1
0
May 1970 was the financial end of the City of Augusta. No tax ba
Unpublished

se. Annexation of small sections of the county followed until enough area/votes had been acquired to force feed consolidation.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:38 am
1
0
City of Augusta had no tax base. Richmond County had tax base.
Unpublished

The rest of the story is a horrible joke on RC taxpayers.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:39 am
1
0
soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:42 am
1
0
At some point CC will be asked to subsidize ARC. New England.
Unpublished

Affluent counties made to pay for welfare counties service base.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:44 am
1
0
soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:45 am
1
0
The mission of any government is to preserve the government...
Unpublished

The mission of any government is to preserve the government...

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:47 am
1
0
Civil War was about preserving the power of central government
Unpublished

nothing more nothing less. Slavery, state's rights, even money were only bullet points on the agenda. Preserve the central government.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:49 am
1
0
Consolidation. Preserve the power of the central government in
Unpublished

Richmond County or the City of Augusta or Augusta-Richmond Georgia or whatever. Even the name became an overwhelming obstacle.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/11/13 - 10:51 am
1
0
Ringling Brothers is waiting with a management bid proposal.....
Unpublished

Ringling Brothers is waiting with a management bid proposal.....

Little Lamb
45360
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Little Lamb 12/11/13 - 12:18 pm
5
0
TEE

The editors conveniently left out the controversy over the TEE Center and Marriott Parking Deck management agreements as factors in the case to fire Russell.

Sweet son
10104
Points
Sweet son 12/11/13 - 01:44 pm
3
0
"Our local government is a skewed monument to dysfunction!"

Now that is a statement! And that statement is true! How to fix it is a worse problem than that damning statement!

Mr. Russell had a hard job and did it well under the conditions which he worked. He said himself that he had 10 bosses. No person can answer to that many people with so many opinions and special interests. One side seems to want to take care of only 'their own' and the other side seems to want to take care of the county as a whole.

As long as there is no cooperation between the two factions then there will be dysfunction. And if one side doesn't get their way then they will make sure that the dysfunction continues.

LOL! As always as has been the case in the past, hire a consultant to study it!

From reading other media outlet's stories on local government it seems that the only ones that seem to function are the ones who are controlled by one faction and those controlled by that one faction are beds of corruption and racketeering.

Bizkit
30801
Points
Bizkit 12/11/13 - 01:50 pm
4
1
Can we undo consolidation.

Can we undo consolidation. Just created more problems and hasn't increased our status.

GnipGnop
11904
Points
GnipGnop 12/11/13 - 01:57 pm
4
0
This editorial strikes me as funny...

because it's in a newspaper owned by a guy that is neck deep in taxpayer money and getting the best deal on tax payer funded buildings. This would be like Obama calling someone a socialist....

Susan McCord
127
Points
Susan McCord 12/11/13 - 01:58 pm
5
0
One question might be whether

One question might be whether the mayor is expected to lead the commission. The Consolidation Act indicates he is chairman of the board.

dichotomy
32135
Points
dichotomy 12/11/13 - 02:10 pm
6
0
LL...."The editors

LL...."The editors conveniently left out the controversy over the TEE Center and Marriott Parking Deck management agreements"

You noticed that too. How convenient for them.

Russell had a lot of faults....but this crazy firing was initiated more based on complexion than complexities. I don't know what the hell Davis and Jackson were thinking but it certainly wasn't about what is cheaper for the taxpayers.

Bizkit
30801
Points
Bizkit 12/11/13 - 02:43 pm
4
2
I don't have those issues-I

I don't have those issues-I live in the "utopia" of Columbia county. Ho, ho, ho. Thought I'd stir the stew. Richmond County reminds me of Newt Gingrich because it has all the potential and brilliance in the world but it just can't help but screw it all up. Murphy's law in action.

Little Lamb
45360
Points
Little Lamb 12/11/13 - 03:18 pm
4
0
Leader

Good comment, Ms. McCord. Yes, the mayor could do a better job of leadership, as Riverman has often pointed out. The mayor indeed does run the commission meetings, and he's quick to gavel down a citizen for over-running his allotted three-minute time to speak. He also occasionally chides a commissioner for speaking unkindly to another commissioner. But in leadership and vision regarding the real needs of the city (which, in my opinion would involve getting city workers to carry out their duties with efficiency and accuracy), the mayor is a no-show. Of course, Russell was pretty much a no-show in that regard. Russell did not hold his department heads accountable for getting their people to work productively. That's reason enough to fire him, which should have been done six or seven years ago.

Bizkit
30801
Points
Bizkit 12/11/13 - 03:58 pm
5
1
Little Lamb "accountability"

Little Lamb "accountability" in government is as mythic as the Tooth Fairy.

Sweet son
10104
Points
Sweet son 12/11/13 - 04:54 pm
3
0
And yes, the mayor could and should be more forceful.

Don't get me wrong I don't dislike Deke but wish more often he would make more noise and try to lead the mess over which he is the 'leader.'

And also, dichotomy is right the firing was about complexion and not complexities. This will continue to be the case and it will never go away. :(

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 12/11/13 - 06:06 pm
4
1
Previous Lawsuit

"The Consolidation Act indicates he is chairman of the board."

Remember the lawsuit brought by Woody Merry where Judge Overstreet said as much and said the Mayor could interpret abstentions as he chose. That was when one commissioner would abstain to avoid a 5-5 tie that the mayor could break. I believe that decision was eventually overturned in the State Supreme Court leaving us with the status quo. One of our regular commenters was involved in all that. Maybe he will clarify what happened.

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