Behind the scenes of Fred Russell’s firing

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Behind the scenes of Fred Russell’s firing

Each of the seven Augusta commissioners involved in the firing of Fred Russell kept saying pretty much the same thing about the city administrator’s abrupt departure: “It’s not a personal thing with Fred. We like Fred.”

That’s easy for them to say when you are not the one being fired.

As long-time readers of the Metro Spirit know, the Insider has not been a huge fan of Russell through the years, but this week you sort of have to sympathize with the man.

For the most part, it is because of the way the firing went down. Without any real notice or knowledge from the commission, Russell’s employment with the county was simply terminated.

He was fired in front of his county employees, the public and the press.

It was painful to watch the impromptu press conference held shortly after the vote to fire Russell.

It was clearly awkward for Russell and the commissioners, and, as always, some members of the media didn’t help.

During the brief press conference, a few reporters asked absurd questions such as, “So, Mr. Russell, do you plan on attending more bicycle races now?”

Really? This man has just been fired and you are asking about his future vacation plans?

The same “journalist” also asked, “So, does this ruin your Christmas?”

Again, seriously? Is this reporter doing a Sunday afternoon Hallmark special on Fred Russell? That would be the only reason that particular question would be even remotely appropriate.

Even Russell couldn’t help but joke about the absurdity of the question by providing a sarcastic response.

“My kids won’t be able to get their presents now,” Russell said, smirking at the question. “No. Not really.”

While Russell was overly gracious and kind to the commission during the press conference, it was clearly all a front. Did these commissioners highly respect Russell? Obviously not, or they wouldn’t have fired him in that manner.

And does Russell really appreciate the Augusta Commission’s drive to “move Augusta forward?”

Come on. If you believe that, there is an awesome piece of property in South Augusta called the former Regency Mall site that you need to invest in.

After all the cameras were gone and only a few people remained, Russell’s real feelings about the day began to show.

As Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith began to discuss his future plans with him, Russell simply shrugged off the discussion.

“I’m leaving and you are in charge,” Russell said as he left his office. “Apparently, I’m in charge until the 31st; after that, it’s your problem.”

Poor Fred Russell. No one deserves that.

Also, you can’t help but find the irony in the fact that Augusta commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason were so upset with Russell a few weeks ago during the entire “slum” designation controversy because it was sprung on them by the media.

Back then, Russell was pounded by the commission for introducing a proposal that would define a 594-acre area in the downtown district as an Urban Redevelopment Area under the Department of Community Affairs.

This designation would allow the city to borrow $26.5 million in tax-exempt bonds, but in order to receive the tax-exempt bonds, commissioners were initially told that the city would have to accept a proposed “slum” designation.

Several commissioners told Russell that they thought the commission was ill-prepared to handle the public outcry over the city’s proposed designation. The plan was sprung on them by the media.

“This commission didn’t know anything about it, so we kind of got slapped in the face with it,” Mason said.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett agreed, saying that the commission cannot be kept in the dark about future long-term plans.

“Why is it that I had to find out from print media that this was in the works?” he asked.

All right, gentlemen (and lady) on the Augusta Commission, was the firing of Russell without his knowledge just payback? Why wouldn’t you have taken the time to at least ask Russell to return to the meeting before voting to fire him?

The end result was the ultimate slap in the face. Russell was informed that he was fired by the media.

That is a sad ending to what could have been a positive new beginning for Augusta.

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