Get ready Augusta. You will likely soon see “Russell for Mayor” signs popping up all over the Garden City.
The idea is incredible. A little more than a month ago, seven Augusta commissioners unanimously voted to fire former City Administrator Fred Russell from a position he had held for almost a decade.
The reason many of the commissioners gave was, “We needed a change.”
A change. Something new. Something different. Someone not Fred Russell.
But now, several of the commissioners who voted to fire Russell are now considering endorsing him for mayor.
How does that make any sense? Russell wasn’t good enough to continue in his role as city administrator, but some commissioners are now comfortable endorsing him for the city’s top seat?
Now, granted, the mayor has basically no real power, so Russell wouldn’t be a threat to any commissioners. He would basically preside over all the commission meetings; serve as the official head of Richmond County for ceremonial purposes; administer oaths; sign all written contracts entered into by the commission; help appoint committees; and vote on the rare instance that there is a tie on the commission.
But there is a true art to being mayor.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver is outstanding in that role. He is personable and polished, and while he can get nervous from time to time, he does it all with Southern charm which endeared him to a lot of people. He’s genuinely a good person and a wonderful representative of the city of Augusta.
Let’s face it, Russell is no Deke Copenhaver.
He is a former deputy police chief from Richmond, Va., and, well, he looks like a former deputy police chief from Richmond, Va.
Russell is also known for openly criticizing certain members of the commission. Sure, he does it behind their backs, but he’s not shy about it. He will tell people he meets on the street what a nightmare the commission can be.
Just think, Russell did that as city administrator when those commissioners had the authority (as they surely proved) to fire him at the drop of a hat.
As mayor, the commission could not fire Russell, so he would be free to say whatever he wishes about any commissioner without fear of retribution.
That’s a pretty scary thought considering some of these commissioners would be the same ones who voted to fire Russell.
Talk about a toxic situation.
Do you think Russell will hold his tongue if Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams gets out of line? The answer: Not no, but hell no.
If that happens, many people will be cheering Russell on, but Williams won’t back down without a fight. So, if you think Augusta’s current image of a feuding commission is bad, just wait and see if Russell gets elected.
Then, there are commissioners like Bill Lockett, who was fed up with Russell’s disrespectful comments as administrator.
“Fred had become a little flamboyant, saying things to the media that made the commission look like buffoons,” Lockett said after voting to fire Russell in December. “And we weren’t too appreciative of that.”
Lockett was all for getting new blood in the city administrator’s seat. He acted as if they were all friends, but most people knew that wasn’t really the case.
“We need some new ideas and Mr. Russell has been in this position for a long time,” Lockett said in December. “And you need turnover. When you have administrators and managers, those are not career positions. We appreciate what Mr. Russell has done since he’s been here in Augusta, but it is just time for us to move in a different direction.”
Hear that Augusta? A different direction.
All voters must realize that both Lockett and Williams will be in office until 2016. They are not going anywhere, so if Russell is elected, he will have to deal with two commissioners who, let’s just say, are not huge fans of the former administrator.
Of the commissioners who voted to fire him, many are leaving, that’s true. Commissioners Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson and Joe Jackson will no longer be on the commission by the end of the year.
So, who’s left that Russell will get to work with? Commissioner Mary Davis will kindly work with anyone, so Russell is in the clear there. Commissioner Donnie Smith felt so bad about the manner in which Russell was fired that he will likely be a gentlemen when dealing with Russell. At least for the first few months.
Then, we have Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy. Despite what people think, he doesn’t jump on the bandwagon with Williams or Lockett. He is an independent thinker, but he’s also not a huge fan of Russell, so he probably won’t welcome Russell with open arms.
Of course, there will be a major influx of new commissioners coming into the mix, so that may play in Russell’s favor.
But there is one huge obstacle standing in the way of Russell and the mayor’s seat.
And that obstacle is Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason.
Mason is not shy. Mason says exactly what he means.
If Russell enters into the mayor’s race, he better expect some serious debates. No one knows Russell better than Mason.
If Mason plays it smart, he can tear Russell apart. Of course, Russell probably knows some serious dirt on Mason too, so things could get interesting.
How will Russell respond?
Will he play dirty? Will he rise above it all?
If he enters the mayor’s race, Russell will shake up this election like no other. But, honestly Augusta, it probably won’t be for the better.