Originally created 11/30/97

Director focuses on issues amid both criticism, praise



Ask commissioners and they'll tell you Randy Oliver does things right.

But being right and staying employed are not always compatible, especially in the public sector. Doing things the right way has gotten Mr. Oliver in hot water with some commissioners, according to several sources, who asked for anonymity so they wouldn't get into hot water, too.

This month marks Mr. Oliver's first anniversary with the city, and some say he may not make it to his second.

For one thing, the administrator readily supplies all public information about city operations to the media upon request, which some commissioners resent, because they do not like to read things in the newspaper they do not know about.

Mayor Pro Tem Freddie Handy, one of Mr. Oliver's critics on the board, has complained publicly to that effect, as has Commissioner Henry Brigham.

The administrator has offended other top elected officials. For example, Sheriff Charles Webster was irked at his calling attention to the rising costs in the sheriff's department, and Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. was unhappy with his hard-line stance on the $40,214 worth of backdoor raises for indigent-defense office employees, according to several sources.

Neither Sheriff Webster nor Judge Fleming returned phone calls left at their offices Wednesday seeking comment on this story.

"I think people in Randy's position are always subject to criticism, and he's building up a coalition that is against him, but he also has a very strong support," Commissioner Rob Zetterberg said. "So at any time there are six votes against him, an administrator will be gone. He understands that."

And he is unpopular with some employees, who are dissatisfied because the city's recent salary study didn't do what they expected for their paychecks.

"The employees don't like him," said one disgruntled worker. "It looks like he wants to get rid of the ol' boy network, no matter who they are or whether they're worth a damn and bring in people that look and act just like him - his people."

In addition, Mr. Oliver has made some recommendations that turned out to be unpopular with the public and some of his bosses.

One was his proposal for mandatory garbage pickup in the unincorporated areas of Richmond County, for which he took a lambasting from residents during a series of public hearings.

Mr. Oliver said it was an idea whose time hasn't come to Augusta.

Another plan to put slum signs with the names, addresses and phone numbers of the owners in front of blighted properties brought protest from the property owners and some commissioners alike.

But Mr. Oliver believes in "just taking a licking and keep on ticking," he said.

The 47-year-old certified public accountant and professional engineer is issue-oriented and tries to stay out of politics and personality conflicts, although he knows where the snipers are, he said.

In fact, one of the things he tries to impress on everyone is the need to deal with issues based on facts. And one of his biggest disappointments as administrator is the amount of petty politics he has encountered, he said.

"When you deal in an arena like this, you have to deal with issues, and you don't let personalities and people get involved with issues," he said. "Reasonable people can disagree and not have hard feelings and take it personally with each other. I think that's very important. I really do."

Has the administrator's job been what he expected before he came here from Polk County, Fla., where he was an assistant administrator?

There were three things that surprised him, he said.

One was how far behind the city's computer technology lagged.

"We've made significant strides on that, but we can't close the gap too soon," he said.

The second was the number of departments that functioned like independent agencies instead as part of the whole government.

And the third was the condition of city equipment.

"Because of the former city's financial problems, nothing was done about the equipment," he said. "We had one boom truck that was 17 years old," he said.

He counts establishing an Augusta Cares phone line at 821-2300 to answer citizen questions and complaints as one of his best accomplishments. Another is improvement of the computer system, including new software for finance, personnel, purchasing and the utilities system that will be up and running in June.

"It's easy to underestimate the importance of that," he said.

Since he's been in Augusta, Mr. Oliver has been dealing with day-to-day crises and unable to plan beyond this year, a situation he wants to remedy, he said.

"There's a saying that when you're up to your neck in alligators it's hard to remember your first priority is to drain the swamp," he said.

Next year he hopes to focus on draining the swamp.

Some opinions about Randy Oliver

Here is a sampling of opinions about Augusta's Administrator Randy Oliver after his first year on the job:

Mayor Larry Sconyers: "I think he's done a good job."

Mayor Pro Tem Freddie Handy: "I've had a problem with Randy for a long time. He doesn't treat everybody the same way."

Commissioner Rob Zetterberg: "Randy is doing an exceptional job. One thing I really like about Randy is we're getting recommendations from him, and he's leading the staff. Before all we got was pieces of paper with no recommendations."

Commissioner Moses Todd: "I give him an A. I think he's done a good job. I feel that there's a lot of hurdles been thrown out there in front of us, but I think he's probably cleared most of them without knocking any over."

Commissioner Ulmer Bridges: "Randy is a definite plus for county government. He's very effective, efficient. He's non-political. He presents commissioners options and gives them the pros and cons and lets them decide and follows through. I can't give him anything but an A+. He's been great."

A department head: "He will make a decision. He will tell people no. He may not make it a year. Some commissioners are (angry) at him. He has not managed at this level before and has some things to learn. Most people here have never dealt with a manager before. They've never been managed."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham: "I think Randy Oliver had been a breath of fresh air in this government of ours. He has come in and made good no-nonsense decisions. I think that he has been put in political traps along the way. I think that he is making recommendations that we do things the right way in government."