Files are gone, but questions remain

Public deserves answers over missing data from Fred Russell's computer

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It appears Marion Williams got a bite.

In our Jan. 24 editorial about the Augusta commissioner’s fishing trip into former City Administrator Fred Russell’s computer files, we left open the real possibility that Williams just might find something.

Actually, it was what Williams didn’t find that triggers a torrent of questions about Russell and his activities in office.

The number of printed documents Williams received in his investigation appeared unusually light. A stack of paper less than 4 inches high, by Williams’ estimate, supposedly represents five years’ worth of data culled from a work computer belonging to the city administrator of Georgia’s second-largest city.

And on the heels of Williams’ complaints that the bulk of Russell’s records likely were erased, TV station WRDW reported that Russell admitted deleting everything from his work computer.

On Tuesday morning, Russell’s campaign manager in the Augusta mayoral race said Russell is no longer running.

The biggest question, of course, is: Why did he do it? Why did Russell wipe all that data from his computer?

He knew it was the property of the city. And he had reason to know the city would be interested in it: The contents of his hard drive were an issue as long ago as 2007.

A WRDW reporter quoted Russell as saying he did it because he wanted to. Wrong. That’s an explanation more suit­ed for a 3-year-old caught reaching in a cookie jar, not for a municipal employee who was responsible for a city budget of almost $700 million at the time he left his post.

What was on Russell’s hard drive that he apparently didn’t want seen?

We would assume the city has data servers that keep information stored even if data is deleted at the computer source. If so, were Russell’s records also wiped from any connected servers? If so, who did it? And under what pretenses?

Will these unfolding circumstances have an effect on Russell’s severance? Did he break faith with his employers and the city by erasing records he knew were under scrutiny? Shouldn’t a severance be contingent on good behavior?

What is the legality of Russell’s actions? Was it even his data to destroy? Wasn’t it the city’s data, generated by him during his duties as city administrator?

Are there any violations of the state’s open records laws?

The legal question is especially troubling. Russell was a longtime law officer and a former deputy police chief for Richmond, Va. If laws were broken, it reflects that much more poorly on him.

It’s increasingly hard to believe that Russell’s decision to drop out of the mayor’s race is not related to these disturbing revelations about a potential wealth of missing information.

In much of Russell’s dealings with the media, he has been curt and coy, and sanguine to the point of stand offishness. He has taken “unflappable” to the point of being a fault. Nor did he relish talking to WRDW – initially insinuating that Commissioner Williams was all wet about the hard drive being emptied.

That cat-and-mouse act is all the more bizarre for someone who was toying with asking for your vote for mayor.

Now he seems to be playing games with the taxpayers and the public’s information, and that is inexcusable.

The mystery of these missing files begs for prompt, detailed answers.

Taxpayers made a nice life for Mr. Russell for a decade. He owes them more than he’s giving them.

Comments (12) Add comment
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owensjef3
5639
Points
owensjef3 02/05/14 - 07:08 am
3
3
Oh boy
Unpublished

Oh boy

Pops
8440
Points
Pops 02/05/14 - 09:11 am
3
6
Story about

An irrelevant candidate for an irrelevant office pestered by an irrelevant commissioner makes for a nothing story. This is an example of why some see the local government as a joke. Come on guys how about doing something out of the ordinary....like looking forward.

Bizkit
31421
Points
Bizkit 02/05/14 - 10:06 am
4
1
Is it illegal for him to

Is it illegal for him to clear his computer? I think most people delete stuff off their business computers if they are leaving the position. People have private information too on their computers. Not excusing Russell's behavior-seems like he is indignant and just being childish. So now i understand he removed material from the city server-now that is definitely criminal. Time for a grand jury and prosecute this crook-why else would he remove stuff from the server. Circumstantial evidence alone would convince a jury. Jail time. Russell doesn't need to run for mayor, he needs to run for his life and get the heck outta Augusta before he is prosecuted.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 02/05/14 - 10:29 am
0
0
He learned his ways from Robert Dixon. No prosecution. More $$$$
Unpublished

He learned his ways from Robert Dixon. No prosecution. More $$$$

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 02/05/14 - 10:29 am
0
0
Government towns are always corrupt. It comes with blank checks
Unpublished

Government towns are always corrupt. It comes with blank checks

GuyGene
1276
Points
GuyGene 02/05/14 - 10:32 am
2
1
Data recoverable?

Unless he used a very high level erasure method/software to delete the data, which he probably did, it can be recovered.

Honesty is not the best policy - it's the ONLY policy that works in life.

dichotomy
32923
Points
dichotomy 02/05/14 - 11:37 am
3
1
Russell may regret telling

Russell may regret telling WRDW that he deleted files. Up until that point he was like the guy in the rat costume on the TV commercial......PROVE IT

Dumb move "what, me worry" Fred.

Darby
25642
Points
Darby 02/05/14 - 01:22 pm
2
1
"Unless he used a very high level erasure

method/software to delete the data, which he probably did, it can be recovered."

.
That would depend on just how long ago he erased the data and how many time he had written over it.

Then too, if he used a readily available military grade "shredder" then there is absolutely no way anything will be recoverable.

Very interesting. But not unexpected.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 02/05/14 - 04:08 pm
2
0
Blame game? I'm in

The administrative rights given to Russell that allowed him to admin over the files on the pc he was issued, was not his call. It was as easy as clicking a checkbox and voila, Russell would not have the ability to delete files or overwrite them,etc. So the error or fault is not so much the terminated employee. It lies squarely on those who are paid to ensure the integrity of the data on public-owned HDD's. Yall want someone to hold to the fire, hold the ones who are responsible and if you think for one second, it is the onus of the employee (Fred) to manage and maintain a piece of equipment such as a pc, you are never going to get it. He did nothing wrong and that is proven in the fact that the IT admin didn't remove his right to delete files. If the rule/law is no deletion of files, then check the stupid box and you won't have to depend on someone else doing your job. It was their responsibility and their's alone.

That said, Fred Russell may be alot of things, but nailing him for using his pc in the manner in which it was configured FOR HIM, is worthless and is actually costly with regard to the taxpayers.

Lastly, whoever suggests that Fred "owes" something to anyone and points out that the guy got a paycheck from the City, you're out there man. What world are we in where after you are terminated, you are required to do anything for your terminator? Again, how is it Fred's responsibility to provide the folks that fired him, one iota of effort? How? If you give me the example of him deleting files, I'll refer you to my comment directly above.

Lee Benedict
1585
Points
Lee Benedict 02/05/14 - 04:37 pm
1
1
Good point, Dave.

Fred may not be the most personable, cooperative fellow. Fred may have deleted everything from the computer. If someone did not want for him to be able to do so, have IT take 60-90 seconds and mash some buttons that gear that computer for that person's job title with the appropriate duties. I use a computer provided by the public and it is set up for my job title. Common sense dictates that if the Commission was so concerned and so concerned in 2007, then it would have done something THEN with regard to a user's ability to delete items that would remain deleted in perpetuity. But no. Perhaps some day the Commission will be about good government, doing right by the citizenry, leaving personal baggage in the parking garage...Until then (and I ain't holding my breath), unless the voters wake up and exponentially more good people seek elected office, it will remain a cavalcade of drama and childish antics with no evidence of realizing and accepting its place in life and influence on the 23.4-degree ecliptic.

Riverman1
83904
Points
Riverman1 02/05/14 - 05:10 pm
2
2
Who Wouldn't?

I don't know a soul who wouldn't clean up his computer from personal stuff if he/she were leaving a job. Leaving stuff on computers for others to read cost me two marriages, loss of a few good friends and a butt whupping.

Riverman1
83904
Points
Riverman1 02/05/14 - 05:14 pm
2
2
Better Be Careful

If I were one of the Commissioners sitting up there at Commission meetings using a city furnished lap top and smart phone, danged if I'd be throwing this idea around.

gargoyle
17055
Points
gargoyle 02/05/14 - 07:41 pm
2
1
I still can't believe we have

I still can't believe we have a I T department that hasn't archived E-Mail to and from top city officials. The place to start is heads rolling for whoever was involved in the decision not to auto archive a public computer. If they don't have backup files Augusta doesn't have a IT department .

Conservative Man
5564
Points
Conservative Man 02/05/14 - 09:00 pm
2
2
Pops....

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

"Looking forward" is great but if Augusta does so at the expense of remembering from whence we came we are DOOMED..

If Fred did what is purported to have happened and it is proven to be illegal, he should be held accountable..period.

I heard a radio talk show host say that he left the station "in tears" after this announcement....I submit that if he broke the law, he should have left in handcuffs..

Only time will tell.

corgimom
32400
Points
corgimom 02/05/14 - 10:48 pm
0
3
Many of us have been saying

Many of us have been saying all along that he wasn't a good guy, and this just proves it.

He didn't delete just personal stuff, he deleted files directly attributed to his work as an EMPLOYEE of Richmond County, he had no right to delete them.

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