Seized computer stirs debate

City Administrator Fred Russell is fuming that Augusta Commissioner Calvin Holland ordered a city employee to remove the hard drive from Mr. Russell's office computer while the administrator was out of town this week.

"I work for the commissioners, not one commissioner," Mr. Russell said in a telephone interview. "If six of them want to see my hard drive, I have no problem with that whatsoever. But individual commissioners should not be telling the staff what to do."

Mr. Holland, however, says he has the right to have the computer evaluated because Mr. Russell is a public employee. He said he is concerned because some city employees have been doing private business on their taxpayer-funded computers.

"As an elected official, I think I have a right to it," he said. "There are six or seven people doing outside business with their computers. I think we need to find out about it. That kind of information is public information."

Mr. Holland also said he was not out to get Mr. Russell or trying to hurt anybody.

Mr. Russell, who is taking vacation time to volunteer with the cycling event Tour de Georgia, said if Mr. Holland had asked him for the hard drive, he would gladly have given it to him.

"There's nothing on it," he said. "I haven't worked 30 years in Virginia and here to build up a good reputation and have it destroyed."

When Mr. Holland asked for the hard drive, Information Technology Assistant Director Gary Hewett telephoned Mr. Russell, who essentially said no.

Commissioner Marion Williams, who said he didn't know anything about Mr. Holland's request, agreed that the information on Mr. Russell's computer was public information.

He also agreed that he knows of several people who have businesses and have used city time and equipment to do business.

"I'm concerned about it," said Commissioner Jerry Brigham. "I don't think one commissioner ought to be going in and trying to run the government by himself. If it's that important an issue, we need to try to reach consensus before we try to be making moves."

Commissioner Don Grantham said Mr. Russell works for the commission, and if there is any type of personal information they need, it should come by the request of the commission.

Commissioner Andy Cheek alluded to Mr. Holland's request during Tuesday's city commission meeting, saying it was a violation of commissioners' duties and responsibilities.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.