So, after more than a decade working in Augusta-Richmond County, City Administrator Fred Russell is out. And while many people are talking about what a huge surprise it was that Russell was fired, that’s not exactly true.
Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams has been talking about getting rid of Russell for years and he definitely pumped back up the rhetoric this week.
“It’s time for Fred to go,” he was heard announcing all last week.
But Williams obviously wasn’t alone in his dissatisfaction with Russell.
Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett have been leading the charge to fire Russell for the past three years.
But it wasn’t until this year that several white commissioners also discovered major holes in Russell’s leadership. Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Joe Jackson have been pretty vocal about their displeasure with some of Russell’s actions.
Even Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith acknowledged this week that he has been working behind the scenes to ease Russell into an early retirement.
But this week’s chaotic events fell into place for the ideal scenario for Williams to lead the charge in firing Russell.
As usual, Williams played his cards a little early. Apparently, he was planning on pushing for Russell to get fired next Tuesday after the full commission meeting, but since Donnie Smith was in Atlanta on Monday and Wayne Guilfoyle and Grady Smith were also absent, Williams had the opportunity to strike while the other commissioners, like Corey Johnson and Mary Davis, were vulnerable.
If Grady Smith, Donnie Smith or Wayne Guilfoyle aren’t present for a meeting, it appears Mary Davis doesn’t know how to vote. So, in this case, she seemed willing to go with the pack.
And most people thought Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson would avoid all controversy for the next year while he is campaigning for the Georgia Senate seat. But because there was no objection to firing Russell on Monday with a 7-0 vote, he could stand as a united commission on the decision, which leaves him less of a target during election time.
And then there was poor Donnie Smith who was working behind the scenes to get a retirement plan in place for Russell, along with a transition plan for the new city administrator.
All that work blew up in his face this week.
When he received word that the commission was going to fire Russell, Donnie Smith raced back from a trip to Atlanta to try and stop the vote, but he didn’t make it back in time. The deed was done by the time he arrived.
But the worst part about the whole firing was when the commission came back from a two-and-a-half-hour legal session on Monday and called the meeting back to order, making a motion to fire Russell. Without any discussion, the commission voted 7-0 and it was over. All with Russell not even being in the room.
Russell was still in his office. He didn’t even realize the commission was back in session until the news media came racing back to Russell’s office (filming, of course) and barged in, saying, “The commission has just voted to fire you. What is your reaction?”
It was the worst thing Augustans have seen in a long time.
Russell’s feet were up on the desk and he simply said, “Can I have a minute, please?”
No one should be fired like that. It was embarrassing for Russell and even more humiliating for Augusta.
Like Russell or not, the Augusta Commission should be hanging their heads in shame about how the firing went down.