We have a right to know

Wiped records from former administrator's computer belong to public

It’s as if they want to erase what Fred Russell has done.

Some Augusta commissioners want to put the disappearance of the former city administrator’s computer files behind them.

The whole episode has created unwanted distractions and divisiveness at city hall since Commissioner Marion Williams made a request last month to see five years’ worth of Russell’s computer hard drive files. And some on the commission apparently believe that since Russell is no longer with the city – he was fired Dec. 9 by a 7-0 vote – a continued inquiry is a waste of time.

Since when is defending the importance of public records a waste of time?

There is a real possibility that state law – which requires the retention of numerous types of government records, including certain types of email – may have been broken.

Clearly, files were deleted from Russell’s hard drive before its contents were made available to Williams. Incredibly, Russell has admitted deleting files but has offered no further explanation.

He also has not said whether he received any assistance in deleting the files, something which would seem likely considering the dense level of computer network security that one would hope a city as large as Augusta would have.

Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen, who has served as the city’s information technology director since 2001, said Monday that IT staff had no involvement in deleting files nor has it been able to retrieve any of the missing files.

If that is a fact, shouldn’t there at least be an investigation into how a non-IT city employee could single-handedly wipe out computer records and leave little or no trace of evidence?

“What kind of message is that going to say to the rest of the employees?” Williams asked Monday, when his request to seek a preliminary investigation into the file disappearance by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was voted down 4-3.

Commissioners’ dismissive behavior over Russell’s data-wiping sets a horrible precedent. The city basically is telling all its employees that they can delete whatever files they want on their computers, whenever they want, without any negative repercussions.

The city should be reminded – and never forget – that data on computers paid for by public money makes the data public record.

Such a cavalier attitude toward the public’s business is shameful.

This investigation request comes from Williams, who has made his colleagues weary by crying “wolf” before.

This is different. This is real.

We hope the measure gets the required six votes when Williams makes the request again. This is simply too important to let go.

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