Augusta has a new interim deputy administrator, but in this city those temporary positions typically have a way of becoming permanent.
Whether the employee likes it or not.
Just look at the record: Former City Administrator Fred Russell was originally given the position in the interim after his predecessor, George Kolb, left the Garden City.
When Russell was appointed to head the city in 2004, the Information Technology Director Tameka Allen was moved into the role of deputy administrator.
She has been there ever since.
Even the extremely popular Engineering Director Abie Ladson was once an interim director.
But since the firing of Russell late last year, Allen has been the only person in charge of overseeing the day-to-day operations of the entire city.
Clearly, it was time to give her some assistance.
So, this week the Augusta Commission voted 8-0 to appoint Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell as the city’s interim deputy administrator.
It is an unusual choice considering the heavy demands of his current job as traffic engineer, but Cassell has a great deal of experience and has matured a lot since he first arrived in Augusta about eight years ago.
Back in 2006, citizens were literally coming up and hugging Cassell when he first came to town because Augusta had been without a traffic engineer in the public works department for almost six years.
The problem was that Augusta was having trouble attracting qualified engineers to the city because it could not compete with the higher salaries offered in private industry.
But Cassell, who came from one of the largest engineering design firms in the nation, URS Corporation, said he was attracted to Augusta’s vacant traffic engineering position for reasons other than a big paycheck.
In Atlanta, when he was working as a professional consultant, Cassell’s office was located in a tall skyscraper with a nice window view.
When he arrived in Augusta in 2006, Cassell had a small, windowless office located above the garage of the traffic engineering building along Riverfront Drive.
“I went from a big building to basically working over a garage,” Cassell jokingly said in 2006. “I was a little nervous when I first got here, but I have to say, I love it here. I now have a 14-minute commute as opposed to the hour and 20 minutes I had before in Atlanta. This is exactly what I wanted.”
There were two reasons Cassell decided to accept the traffic engineering job in Augusta: the love of a local girl and the advice from a close friend.
While working at URS in Atlanta, one of Cassell’s colleagues and good friends was Augusta’s former traffic engineer Jim Huffstetler.
During his four years as traffic engineer in Augusta, Huffstetler was extremely popular with local residents because he often took the time to meet with neighborhood associations to discuss ways to encourage safer traffic flow.
Many citizens were heartbroken when Huffstetler accepted a job in Atlanta.
“When Jim left Augusta, he went to work for URS Corporation in Atlanta and I had been there about a year,” Cassell said in 2006. “When Jim started, he and I hit it off automatically. We have very similar personalities. I guess you could say we don’t take ourselves as seriously as we try to portray ourselves. So, we kind of fed each other’s egos over the four years that I worked there.”
Even though Cassell said he thoroughly enjoyed working for URS, he admitted he never could get adjusted to living in Atlanta. As a native of Middleport, Ohio, he grew up in a river city with a population of about 2,500 people.
The fact that Augusta is a mid-sized city bordered by the Savannah River was very appealing to Cassell. He soon became attached to the Garden City and a certain local girl.
While in Atlanta, Cassell began dating a woman from Lincoln County, Ga., whom he later married in 2007.
Let’s just say, Cassell’s wife knows a thing or two about Augusta politics considering her brother-in-law is WGAC’s Austin Rhodes.
So, does that mean Austin Rhodes’ brother-in-law is second in command of the entire city of Augusta?
Yes, folks, it’s true. But don’t be scared.
The two aren’t blood relatives and Steve Cassell has a good head on his shoulders.
Of course, Cassell’s appointment will probably go straight to Austin Rhodes’s head.
But, then again, what doesn’t?