Georgia’s Trust Problem

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

A couple of weeks ago, the state of Georgia’s budget was so tight that there was no other choice to save money than to eliminate one of the remaining employees at the State Ethics Commission and cut the salary of the Commission’s director 30% to $85,000. The fact that Stacey Kalberman had prepared subpoenas to investigate ethics complaints filed against Governor Nathan Deal was just an unfortunate coincidence.

Today, Georgia is flush with cash again. AJC reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin is reporting that a scheduler for former Governor Sonny Perdue, Corinna Magelund, has been promoted to the state’s mental health ombudsman, doubling her salary from $53,000 to $107,000. The Governor’s office is adamant that her relationship with Deal campaign advisor and now Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Robinson had no part in her promotion, despite the fact that Magelund has no background in mental health. The AJC story indicates that Robinson and Magelund are dating.

Magelund, now earning over six figures, has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Valdosta State. Kalberman, who Deal’s supporters argued was living above the wages of average Georgians, has a law degree from Emory with over 10 years corporate law experience. While Kalberman was told to accept a pay cut from $120,000 to $85,000 or resign, Magelund’s new salary is $25,000 higher than that of the person who last held the job, Jewel Norman. Norman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.

The Deal leadership team continues to demonstrate political tone deafness when it comes to public perception of their actions. At the root of this problem are trust issues, but ones not originating from the public, but from within.

Long time observers of Deal note that he has a very small inner circle of those he trusts. Those within that circle have their own slightly larger trust circles. Those within the first few rings are trusted implicitly. Those outside the circles are not. Within the Deal organization, trust is currency, and loyalty is rewarded.

Deal’s decision to remain loyal to Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is but one example of Deal’s loyalty, with Deal’s first statement on Gingrich as others were abandoning ship “Newt Gingrich is my friend and I support his campaign for the presidency. When the going gets rough, I don’t cut and run on my friends. Whether he stays in the race is his decision, not mine, and I will support whatever decision he makes.” Gingrich endorsed and campaigned for Deal during last year’s Republican primary.

The loyalty of Deal is reciprocated by an over protectiveness of his top staff. Chief of Staff Chris Riley, who held the same title when Deal served in Congress, told Congressional investigators he “rarely allows Representative Deal to go anywhere without him, unless it’s a family matter.” The result appears to be a protective bubble where those on the inside are sensitive and thin skinned to any criticism from outside, while those on the inside position those who they feel worthy of their currency of loyalty, and can’t seem to comprehend how that looks to outsiders, thus producing more criticism. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The State Republican Party held a “Victory Dinner” just after the end of the bitter gubernatorial primary, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as the featured speaker. Jindal talked about the theme of the general campaign, which was loosely defined as “jobs”. He spoke of the challenges he had in post-Katrina Louisiana in attracting industry to his state. His surprise after assuming the role was that with all the problems his state faced in recruiting industry, it was the perception of his state’s government that was the biggest obstacle that had to be overcome.

Jindal told the crowd that after speaking to business leader after business leader, he was told that in order to do business in Louisiana, it appeared to be more important “who you knew, than what you could do.” Jindal told the crowd that until he was able to begin to change the perception that it was more important that your merits would overcome inside connections, outsiders would not want to bring their jobs.

Nathan Deal was in the audience. Let’s hope he was listening.

46 comments

  1. Three Jack says:

    nice comparison charlie, very appropriate.

    obviously deal wasn’t listening (or riley gave him an ipod with all his favorite country songs to enjoy while jindal spoke). there is so much smoke coming from this administration, one might mistake 391 w. paces ferry rd. for a spot in the new mexico desert. unfortunately there is nobody left at the transparency commission to investigate, most of the legislative leaders are dealing with their own ethical challenges so none of them can speak up and the oig is completely silent. a perfect storm for the ethically challenged to run rampant.

  2. CobbGOPer says:

    I concur on the spending, Charlie. How is it that we’re so cash strapped that we’ve got to slash Kalbermann’s staff and salary, but we can hire a Deal insider somewhere else, double her salary, AND pay her $25K MORE than the previous occupant of the position? All while completely doing an end-run around the required hiring process for the position.

    Queue the Deal apologists calling us “sore losers” in 3…2…1…

  3. ZazaPachulia says:

    I hope someone is writing a book about all of this. What I would give to have Bob Woodward occupy Chris Riley’s body for a few months.

  4. Things must be pretty bad back in the Empire if y’all are hoping Deal is taking Jindal’s advice. Though to be honest, if Deal is making moves like that, it sounds more like he’s taking his cues from the C. Ray Nagin school of political decision-making.

      • Yep… only problem was Deal was bad before elected. Georgia voters for some reason decided that a politician with a past filled with ethics issues was who they wanted living on West Paces Ferry. Stay tuned, perhaps they’ll elect Gomer Jr. in 2014.

        • But the other choice was Roy Barnes. Really? Elections are often about the least-worst option, but y’all primaried yourselves into a real Devil or the Deep Blue Sea choice this last time. And to think how much I used to brag about Georgia politics to these folks down here in NOLA.

          That’s taking it a little too far, though. Most pols on the hayride would consider Deal a rank ameteur when it comes to ethics violations. If I were y’all, I’d keep “Real Deal” as far away from Louisiana politicans as possible.

          • grumpymoderate says:

            Roy Barnes didn’t have these kinds of ethics issues. His “sins” were being a Democrat, changing the state flag, and taking on the teacher’s union.

            • benevolus says:

              Roy Barnes didn’t have these kinds of ethics issues. He just happened to be Governor at the time when southern conservatives finally realized the Civil War was over and Abraham Lincoln had been dead for 130 years.

              • Boneheaded policy decisions with a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences can be just as destructive as ethics lapses. The fallout from Barnes’ education reform inititatives while governor have affected public education nationwide, and not in a good way. I know a lot of teachers in Georgia who stayed home on election day.

                I suspect it is very difficult to run a political campaign based on cleaning up the mistakes you made last time you held the office for which you are campaigning. Maybe Georgians’ choice for governor wasn’t between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, but more the Devil they Knew vs. the Devil they Didn’t.

                • benevolus says:

                  Roy Barnes did not exist in a vacuum.
                  In 2002:
                  Saxby ran his Osama ads against Max Cleland and won.
                  Tom Murphy lost.
                  Republicans took control of the state senate.
                  George Bush came here 5 times while everyone was slobbering over his war prowess.

                  Teachers and flaggers are part of the equation, but I doubt they were the biggest factors.

  5. Though I don’t disagree with the thesis of the article (re: the importance of trust in government, etc.), these sort of 1:1 comparisons are pretty ridiculous.

    In other news: the Federal Government cuts discretionary military spending but increases the pay of a janitor at the pentagon. More about this scandal at 11!

    • If Feds cut discretionary military spending by $100k and hired a less qualified janitor at a rate of $100k more than they were paying the last janitor, then you might have an appropriate analogy.

  6. Cassandra says:

    q.1 Who – Long time observers of Deal?

    q.2 When – Deal, now more visible in GA, still true?
    when Deal served in Congress, told Congressional investigators he “rarely allows Representative Deal to go anywhere without him, unless it’s a family matter.”

    Those two questions represent a writer’s point of view that is biased against Deal, in my opinion. Good intro and strong close, and excellent pacing. Good piece.

    To my thinking, Deal seems to care less about the issue of perceptions. He makes decisions that clearly invite speculation. In this case, one may question if another six figure State job is given to the best qualified candidate? Who is dating the bosses trusted ‘insider’. If it works, no one will really care, if the decision turns to embarrassment, it will be marginalized.

    The job of ombudsman requires someone who ‘knows the system’ to assist citizens with their issues, in this case specialized to mental health concerns. I am not sure how much actual clinical or field mental health experience is required, but no experience seems questionable at the top exec level.

    The headline overreaches. Georgia’s ‘trust’ problem, if any, is measured in millions on gratuitous tax credits and exemptions. A $100,000 ‘sweetheart’ appointment, not so much.

    • TPNoGa says:

      While I was never a Deal “fan”, of the three, I still think he was the best choice. I’m not saying a good choice, but best of the three options. I am still fine with my vote. It’s Ralston that ticks me off right now. Wasn’t he elevated due to ethics issues? I mean, dude, c’mon. Taking a trip paid for by lobbyists, just sickens me.

  7. grumpymoderate says:

    How can I trust a governor who supposedly campaigned for “transparency” and “ethics” appoint someone outside of the rules? Who else was interviewed (if any)? This almost sounds like Deal’s own Harriet Miers.

  8. Harry says:

    I sure wish there was a way we didn’t have to keep feeding droppings to the AJC. One suggestion would be that Gov. Deal limits himself to one term, as he previously promised to do anyway.

  9. cheapseats says:

    Corinna is one of literally dozens of Georgia citizens who got a good Deal!

    The rest of us – pretty much screwed with our pants on.

    It would NOT have been better under Karen or Roy but it might have been less “in-your-face” obvious. At least Roy had practice at this sort of thing and none of us would have ever heard about it.

  10. Rick Day says:

    What torques me is the contention that this bureaucrat is touted as ‘the best person for the job’ simply because she has ‘time in the trenches’. In other words, she is in Command Batallion calling all the shots, and like a good soldier, will execute orders without hesitation or thought.

    That a person who holds a critical human resources position without any real human interaction, is what it is; political payment.

    I really detest these people you have enabled, Mr and Mrs. GOP voter.

      • benevolus says:

        OK, so Kia gets tax breaks for bringing jobs to Georgia. If I leave, it leaves an opening for someone else- creating a job. Can I get a tax credit if I leave?

  11. Calypso says:

    Charlie, from your post, “At the root of this problem are trust issues, but ones not originating from the public…”

    I take exception to your remark. I am part of the public, and I DO have trust issues with the new governor and those in his administration. And I voted for him.

  12. Unfortunately, it appears that Governor Deal will have to learn that competency, while rare, still does not give a free pass on ethics.

    I voted for Governor Deal and I’ll give him a solid “B+” on governing so far. Governor Deal is also the leader and “face” for this state. In that area, I give him a “D+” pending any investigations because appearances and trust do matter.

    He is squandering his political capital rapidly and I don’t think he comprehends that fact. Someone on his staff needs to sit down and explain that this isn’t Tom Murphy’s Georgia anymore. People expect good government now.

    • lostinatl says:

      If people expect it why did they even nominate Deal with overwhelming evidence of his questionable ethics?

      • Obviously, either most people did not consider the evidence overwhelming or the accusations did not rise to a level that changed the minds of the voters. You will notice there have been no convictions to date.

        • CobbGOPer says:

          Yeah, because Deal. Real. Corrupt. keeps “downsizing” the folks trying to investigate him…

          • Yeah, there’s no doubt it looks pretty ugly, which in politics means that it is ugly. And I still believe the state made the right choice of Deal over Barnes.

  13. saltycracker says:

    Traditions redux – Just bringing back the Spoils System of government…..

    Memo to the unwashed voters: “Let them eat cake”

  14. elfiii says:

    “Obviously, either most people did not consider the evidence overwhelming or the accusations did not rise to a level that changed the minds of the voters. You will notice there have been no convictions to date.”

    I sense Handel Supporter Agita or a bowel movement in The Force on this topic.

  15. Dave Bearse says:

    “The Deal leadership team continues to demonstrate political tone deafness when it comes to public perception of their actions.”

    Quite the contrary Charlie. The Deal leadership team is tuned in and taking advantage of the fact that shady deals don’t matter to Georgia voters. Only the base in the primary matters, so it’s good politics to take care of the cronies that delivered the base.

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