Originally created 01/18/01

Officials negotiate city posts



Two high-ranking city employees have one foot out the door, ready to leave their jobs with Augusta-Richmond County.

City Fleet Manager Harry Siddal and Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Keven Mack were the topic of personnel talks that took place during a closed legal session of the Augusta Commission on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Siddal turned in a letter of resignation Wednesday. An attorney representing Mr. Mack has said the housing director would willingly resign if compensated adequately.

City Attorney Jim Wall confirmed that, during Tuesday's legal session, commissioners discussed a letter from an attorney representing the director of Housing and Neighborhood Development, outlining the terms of a severance package that would be acceptable enough for Mr. Mack to turn in his resignation.

"In essence, it was a settlement discussion," Mr. Wall said.

He declined to produce any correspondence between his office and the office of Mr. Mack's attorney, Mike Brown, who also represents recently terminated city Comptroller Lon Morrey. Mr. Brown did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

Mr. Mack would neither confirm nor deny Wednesday that he had retained an attorney and was negotiating his resignation.

Commissioner Andy Cheek said the severance package included protection of Mr. Mack's retirement benefits. But the commission opted to take another look at Mr. Mack's department before moving forward with any terminations, Mr. Cheek said.

"There were six votes to fire yesterday, mine included," he said. "But we want to look at the department and figure out how to make it successful."

Mr. Siddal submitted his letter of resignation Wednesday afternoon. He said he accepted another job after commissioners failed to match his salary demands in closed session Tuesday.

"This government needs to have consideration for its employees," Mr. Siddal said. "Good people are hard to find, and we all need a pat on the back once in a while."

He said he has accepted a contract manager position with the maintenance contracting company that makes repairs to Augusta government vehicles. He said he would earn 30 percent more than he earns working for the city, where he has been employed since April 1997.

Because he was hired at the top of the pay scale, Mr. Siddal has received only one 1.5 percent pay increase during his 3.5-year tenure. He said his requests for merit-based pay raises have been turned down year after year.

"The only time they consider me is when I say I'm leaving," Mr. Siddal said.

Late last week, he said, he told the administrator's office that he had a job offer that pays about $20,000 more annually. He said he would agree to stay on as city fleet manager for about $8,000 more annually, bringing his salary to $55,000.

But, he said, commissioners emerged from Tuesday's closed session with a salary offer that fell about $1,400 short of his request. Wednesday morning he accepted the job offer from Baker Services.

"I don't want to lose him," Interim Administrator Walter Hornsby said.

Mr. Siddal said he received a counteroffer from Mr. Hornsby late Wednesday afternoon, and he plans to give him an answer by today.

"This (Wednesday) afternoon, I'm leaning toward leaving," he said.

Augusta government has seen a string of high-ranking employees leave during the past six months. The city's comptroller was fired Jan. 2 by a unanimous commission vote amid alleged mismanagement. Information Technology Director Clifford Rushton resigned in November for a better-paying job. Human Resources Director John Etheridge quit in August.

In October, City Administrator Randy Oliver resigned to become city manager of Greenville, S.C.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.