Fred Russell is a nice guy. He is a nice guy who I hope lives in good health for the next 100 years.
There, now that I got that out of the way, it is time to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Let me set the record straight: While the Augusta city administrator should have been fired at least seven years ago, most of the inexplicable garbage that has gone on since then is the direct result of the ineptitude of a working majority of the Augusta City Commission.
Oh, and Mayors past and present, Bob Young and Deke Copenhaver.
I do not have the time, space or inclination to give all the reasons that Russell should have been put out the door, ass over tea kettle, in all that time, but everyone seems to love a “greatest hits list,” so here is his:
1. Teresa Smith
Some people say Smith was a decent engineer. Maybe so, but when it came to being Augusta’s Public Works director, she sucked harder than an Oreck eight-pound upright.
Her lack of people skills, her horrific asset management and her inability to make timely decisions put so many public and private works projects behind schedule that her removal was demanded by construction managers all over town.
What should have been a routine termination turned into a Shakespearean comedy of errors with Fred Russell playing both leads. Not only did he fail to give Smith proper direction, when her poor work habits put millions of dollars in construction and road projects behind schedule, he did not properly document those glaring and infamous gaffes so obvious that Ray Charles could have seen them.
Smith’s long overdue firing, which came after a pretty good chunk of time “hanging out” and collecting a check, also resulted in a lawsuit payout of over 100K. Smith made the silly claim that she was discriminated against, and low and behold she was replaced by a black man (Abie Ladson), who may well be one of the single greatest employees in the history of local government. So no, it wasn’t them. it was her, and it was Fred’s fault for not doing the paperwork to document her history of professional poop piles that filled city streets and projects for years.
2. The Gastric Bypass Lady
So a real estate developer who is heavily involved in business with the city wants to make a donation to a cause (pick a cause, any cause) that then City Commissioner Betty Beard favors. She apparently opts instead to direct the firm give $25,000 to a city employee for elective gastric bypass surgery.
Russell knows of the deal, and helps engineer it behind the scenes. The whole mess prompts an FBI investigation, and helps to end the political career of Beard, but leaves Russell unscathed. Amazing. The man seems to be part Richard Nixon and part Bill Clinton. He says he didn’t do anything wrong, and even when we all know that he did, nothing sticks to him.
3. Don D’Antignac
A convicted contract killer who escaped charges of killing a local cop because of a technicality, this man’s continued city employment would be one thing if he had been an exemplary employee, but he in fact is far from it.
D’Antignac has held several positions, but was known for hanging out with Fred in the Municipal Building. The city last listed him as an engineering “operations manager” making $41,000 a year.
He has been demoted and disciplined several times over the years, and two supervisors, the aforementioned Smith, and former personnel direct Brenda Byrd-Pelaez, both recommended he be fired. In several years of intense budget cutting, layoffs and reductions, Russell kept him on, covered for him and many say befriended him.
Probably a good thing to do given his background. I never said Fred was an idiot.
4. The Policy and Personnel Manual
…or a lack thereof. You want instructions for a total municipal clustermuck? Start with a city policy/personnel manual like the one Russell endorsed a few years ago. Seven monkeys pounding on six typewriters could have done a better job.
5. Lack of Proper Oversight
Oversight of the Municipal Building: Crapola security in a post 9/11 era that resulted in 25 large being stolen from the Tax Commissioners office. It was Steven Kendrick’s responsibility to lock the safe, it is Fred Russell’s responsibility to secure the building after hours. Don’t blame the Marshal; he doesn’t install security cameras anymore than the Fire Chief installs sprinkler systems.
Oversight of the Fire Chief: Bubba Willis? C’mon Fred, what the hell were you smoking?
Oversight of Geri Sams: If you are gonna have a Procurement Director who has to balance the constitutional rights of local businessmen with the affirmative action political agenda of the Augusta city government, you better have someone running the operation a damn sight smarter than Geri Sams.
Oversight of everyone else: There have been so many goofballs working under Russell’s supervision who have proven to be incompetent, criminal and sometimes even “incompetent criminals” that in listing them I would not know where to start. When you work as the administrator for a city that fails to terminate the most obviously poor employees, if you are not spending every waking hour attempting to correct the loopholes that allow such you should be fired.
Like Fred was.
For all of Fred’s failings, his track record is the result of the permissive ineptitude of a collection of elected officials that goes back a decade. Their failure to supervise him and hold him accountable created the monster they slayed this week.
For 10 years Augusta’s politicians have taken a massive dump on the collective common good, and, this past Monday, they finally flushed.