It appears the Augusta Commission is going to have a hard time choosing an interim administrator, let alone a permanent administrator.
After last week’s surprise vote of 7-0 to fire City Administrator Fred Russell, the commission was tasked with the responsibility of naming an interim administrator to fill the position after Russell leaves on December 31.
For more than an hour, Augusta commissioners remained behind closed doors on December 17 discussing “personnel matters.”
When they finally returned, commissioners decided to appoint Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver as the interim city administrator.
Senior Staff Attorney Wayne Brown asked commissioners to make a motion to approve “the mayor, and in his absence the mayor pro tem, as acting administrator pending the election/appointment of an interim or permanent administrator.”
Therefore, until an administrator or another interim administrator is appointed to the position, Copenhaver will serve in that capacity.
If Copenhaver is not available, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson will serve as interim administrator.
While it may sound like a huge responsibility, Johnson insisted that the mayor, or he, will mainly be signing any necessary documents until the commission can agree on a full-time interim administrator.
“Today, we just decided to allow (Deputy Administrator) Tameka Allen, as of January 1, to just assume the responsibility as the deputy administrator in the administrator’s office,” Johnson said. “She will deal with the day-to-day operations until we appoint someone as interim.”
Johnson said the commission didn’t want to put the additional pressure of signing any documents on Allen.
“Any documentation that needs to be signed, instead of putting the responsibility on her, as of January 1, the mayor will sign off on it and, in lieu of his absence, then I will sign off on it,” Johnson said. “We are all working together to try and make this thing work until we can get someone named as an interim.”
Johnson said the commission simply could not agree on appointing one employee as interim administrator, so they compromised and chose Copenhaver.
However, he hopes that the commission will be able to decide on a full-time interim administrator in January.
“Hopefully, we can name someone the first week of January,” Johnson said. “That is what we are working on. If we make it Ms. Allen, we have to move somebody in the deputy administrator’s position. There are quite a few moving parts there so we have to work the details out.”
The prolonged debate over appointing the interim administrator is fueling speculations about the length of time it will take for the commission to find a permanent replacement.
“Hopefully we can find a permanent administrator in April,” Johnson said. “But it just depends on how the search goes.”
For the past week, several commissioners have discussed the need to find a permanent candidate that is a certified administrator.
“We are going to do a national search and we want to make sure that whoever we get has experience and is certified as a administrator,” Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “You see, Mr. Russell was not certified. He did on the job training, so I think that certification is something we need in a candidate.”
Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason said he is looking for a candidate with new ideas and a new vision.
“Fred has been here a long time and has done a lot of things while he has been here, but I think it is time for some new blood to move forward,” he said. “We need some fresh ideas.”