A hiring practice that needs work
By the AJC Editorial Board
Some key appointments by Gov. Nathan Deal indicate he values loyalty over specific expertise. Making hires this way lessens Georgia’s chances of consistently gaining world-class talent to lead key agencies. Our troubled times demand a better approach.
Just because someone can do a job doesn’t necessarily make them the best person for the post. Discerning that difference is what great leaders and managers do.
Making great hires influences whether results are mediocre, off-the-charts stellar — or somewhere between — at both public- and private-sector organizations.
Which leads us to Gov. Nathan Deal and a number of appointments he’s made to important leadership positions.
We believe Deal’s hiring pattern thus far shows an over-reliance on personal familiarity and loyalty and an under-reliance on job-specific expertise. That should change. Georgia has worked too hard to claw out a prominent place in the nation, and even the world, for this old-fashioned political decision-making to continue.
An outward-focused state with global aspirations can no longer afford to let insular politics drive key personnel decisions. Not when Georgia’s economy is larger than that of many entire nations.
We’re not naive enough to suggest that politics can be yanked entirely from the process. Politicians have, since time immemorial, rewarded loyalists and supporters. That’s just reality.
It should not, however, come anywhere near trumping the managerial pragmatism required of the governor and other elected leaders whose actions influence Georgia’s success in a competitive world. We’ve become enough of a premier destination that Georgia can lure the best talent in the world — if the door is truly open to them. And our needs as a state demand greatness of key public appointees. Anything less is unacceptable.
We’ll note here that our words are not intended as a personal indictment of those Gov. Deal’s named to various positions. Rather, our criticism is of the process that put them there.
The latest example of the political railroad running at full throttle is the naming of Gov. Deal’s choice to lead the Georgia Lottery. Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, a veteran of the state bureaucracy, has most recently led the governor’s budget office. Given Georgia’s tight budgets in recent years, she no doubt understands how to make hard choices in cutting spending.
That’s not the most critical ability needed in the next lottery leader, we’d submit. Not when the agency is struggling to keep up with demand for the Pre-K and HOPE scholarship programs that it funds. Rather, we’d put a strong combination of proven marketing and sales savvy at, or very near, the top of the skills list. Those are essential talents for much of the private sector. The Georgia General Assembly agreed with this assessment in the law setting up the state’s gaming apparatus. It describes the lottery as an “entrepreneurial enterprise.” And the law’s description of the CEO’s job duties calls for “promotion of the Lottery” and performing “other duties generally associated with a chief executive officer of a corporation of an entrepreneurial nature.”
That doesn’t seem the best fit for a longtime government manager, even one good at their current job. Yet, the chances of getting a sales-and-marketing star fizzled once Deal made his preference known. Other potential, experienced applicants crossed Georgia off their list. That’s no way to run a state government that needs world-class talent.
It remains to be seen how far Alford will push the Georgia Lottery toward greater success. The status quo’s not an option, given painful reductions in the lottery-funded early childhood education and HOPE programs.
Deal showed a similar pattern in naming his political and transportation policy adviser Toby Carr to be the state’s new transportation planning director. Carr replaced a career engineer and transportation planner.
No issue is more critical to Georgia’s future success than catching up on long-neglected transportation infrastructure needs. Political savvy is a needed part of the skillset, yes, but Georgia foremost needs professional know-how that can leverage politics to achieve world-class results. That’s especially important considering that many of the “No” voters on July’s T-SPLOST were expressing their belief that politicians, and not policy wonks, were in charge of the ill-fated project lists.
That painful defeat should have provided an important lesson Deal could apply to future appointments. It’s not too late. Deal, a competent steward in some other respects, should revamp his hiring philosophy to reflect a 21st-century Georgia. Our success demands that much, and more.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
Hiring must be based on skill, not loyalties
By Horacena Tate
The recent appointment of Debbie Dlugolenski Alford as the new president of the Georgia Lottery turns a troubling trend into a flagrant stacking of government agency heads with the donors and allies of Gov. Nathan Deal.
Unlike her predecessors, Alford, who served as Deal’s budget director, has no experience or background working with lotteries. There was no meaningful national search; the vacant lottery position was posted on a few websites and only 11 resumes were received. By comparison, in 2003 when the last search was conducted, there were 300 applicants for a position that pays around $500,000 annually with bonuses.
If the selection of Alford was an isolated incident, there would be little more than some grumbling. However, since Deal took office in 2010, there is a growing list of examples of promoting individuals who lack the qualifications necessary for the agency positions they hold – at least no qualification beyond a friendship with Deal. I’m not sure what his office calls it, but the rest of us know this as cronyism.
In recent months, Deal ushered Toby Carr into a job as the state transportation planning director. Carr had no previous transportation experience. Former state senator Jim Butterworth was appointed to the position of adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, a job that requires a two-star general. But since Butterworth retired as a captain, Deal advanced him six ranks to retrofit the person to the position. The sweetheart deal list goes on and on.
Citizens and taxpayers have demanded open, fair and transparent government practices, not cronyism and insider deals. In order to run any agency, the right person should have the appropriate skills, qualifications and background. This is true in private industry and should be true for government.
There is too much at risk for our state not to have the most qualified and talented individuals we can find. The future of the HOPE scholarship rests with the success of the Georgia Lottery.
Citizens are losing control of our state government to the rule of a few insiders. Deal’s ramrod approach to staff choices and budgets has meant a surge in state control and the appointments are more loyal to Deal than the citizens of Georgia.
The troubling trend of stacking agencies with allies affects us all. It’s time for citizens to say, “Enough.”
Sen. Horacena Tate is a Democrat from Atlanta.
On the record
Editor’s Note: Gov. Nathan Deal’s office declined a request to write on this page about his hiring philosophy. In response, Deal met in his Gold Dome office recently with two members of the Editorial Board to discuss hiring strategy. His thinking on the subject is reflected in the below references from AJC news stories.
From the AJC Oct. 26, on the naming of Debbie Dlugolenski Alford as the new president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery:
Gov. Nathan Deal: “I’m now going through my third budget cycle with Debbie, and she’s one of the most intelligent, hardest-working and committed government employees with whom I’ve ever worked.” “… She’ll go to work every day fighting to increase revenues for our HOPE and Pre-K students in Georgia.”
From the AJC, Oct. 9, when Alford was announced as the sole finalist for the lottery job:
“She’s familiar with all facets of our government, and she has earned a strong relationship of trust with state legislators,” Deal said. “I hate to lose her as budget director, but I know she’ll lead the Georgia Lottery to new heights as we strive to keep up with the demands of our HOPE and Pre-K programs.”
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, from a news story in today’s AJC: “Gov. Deal’s governing philosophy is to find talent in Georgia, to promote from within, to build a sense of teamwork and loyalty.” “And if you do a good job, your boss is going to notice and commend those good works by giving you more responsibility.”
“It only makes sense the governor would be able to suggest a person for a position he is ultimately answerable for,” Robinson said. “Judge them by their action, by their product and their effectiveness for the people of Georgia. If somebody is not doing their job right, Gov. Deal is answerable for that, and he will make a change.”
From the July resignation letter of retiring lottery chief Margaret DeFrancisco: “It has been the practice at the Georgia Lottery Corporation to hire a CEO with lottery experience in operating what has become an aggressive sales and marketing organization, and considered one of the most successful in the world, by multiple measures.”