I-TEAM: What city emails reveal about search for Augusta fire chief

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - New bombshells from the search for Augusta’s next fire chief after the I-Team spent the day combing through new internal city emails that show two big things.

First – your elected officials hired a national search firm to conduct this search. We still owe them $14,108 in your tax dollars. So far, the city is past due on not one but two invoices to GOVHR USA.

Second – that search firm identified 11 candidates with “strong” backgrounds. Antonio Burden – the sole finalist – was never on that list. So why did Augusta’s city administrator add him in?

Burden remains the sole finalist for the fire chief job, a position that internal emails say will pay a salary $111,000 to $166,000 a year and that will be held by a person who oversees one of the largest departments in the city.

Yet the I-Team found GOVHR USA didn’t think Burden was among the best to apply – not by a long shot.


Fifty-one people applied. The search was narrowed down to 11, with recruiters writing, “It’s going to be a hard decision, you have a lot of talent …” and, “Everyone has really strong work histories.”

In March, GOVHR USA told the city:

“We’ve interviewed the candidates, the due diligence on their work history, social media, etc is underway …”

Recruiters said the top 11 would be presented in two tiers.

“Tier 1 is the top candidates … Tier 2 are very solid candidates and are there for consideration. They usually don’t rise to the top unless we run into any problems with the Tier 1 group,” recruiters wrote.

Burden was not in Tier 1 or Tier 2.

We don’t know who was because the city has not released the original list of 11, although we’ve asked for it.

But we do know where Burden’s name did first pop up.

Later in March after getting the list of 11, Augusta City Administrator Odie Donald asked for more information on Burden and another man, Adam House.

A GOVHR USA representative responded: “I only have resumes for them since they were not selected and they would be incomplete files compared to what we sent. We only fully process Tier 1 and Tier 2 candidates. The spreadsheet probably has more information than their resumes do, but can send them later on. Do you still want them?”

Anita Rookard, the human resources director for the city of Augusta, responded yes and said to call her privately.

After that call, GOVHR USA wrote to city:

“Just to confirm, we have not done any backgrounds, performed due diligence, interviews or any other components of the recruitment process of these candidates. … We felt the field we provided suited your needs the best …”

But the city moved forward with Burden anyway.

Today we wrote to the city administrator to ask about his involvement in the process.

The answer was lengthy, but we wanted you to read it all.

“The Administrator received a variety of qualified and highly qualified candidates, and also requested additional candidates for initial interviews. From the pool received, there were some candidates who were included because their experience in municipalities similar to Augusta made them attractive. That experience included large size municipalities with geographical make up similar to Augusta, as well as experience with budgets and operations comparable to ours. Candidates were narrowed down based on their unique qualifications, and those with experience as a Chief or Deputy Chief were also considered. Until the Commission decides to officially hire a candidate, the process is not closed, and should be considered active.”

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