Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The head of Georgia’s Office of Planning and Budget is poised to take over operations at the Georgia Lottery Corp. The rumor of Alford’s pending appointment was broken by the Atlanta Journal Constitution a couple of weeks ago and last week Alford was confirmed as the sole finalist for the position by Georgia Lottery Corp officials.
Alford currently serves on the board of Georgia Lottery Corp, the seven member group appointed by the Governor to oversee the operations of Georgia’s lottery which funds the HOPE Scholarship and Georgia’s Pre-K program. She is the former President of Georgia’s virtual technical college and assumed the head job at the Office of Planning and Budget in 2010. Her husband Dean was appointed by Governor Deal to the Board of Regents which oversees Georgia’s colleges and universities last year.
Alford will be Georgia’s third lottery director. Margaret DeFrancisco, selected to take over Georgia’s lottery in 2003, has previously announced her retirement. Georgia’s lottery has been considered a success, though critics charge that the lottery has been too generous with management bonuses and provides a payout to winners higher than the legislature intended.
Alford’s selection appears aimed at putting someone trusted with managing financials through tough times in the position. Her appointment, however, is not without controversy.
Lottery board member Frances Rogers, appointed by Governor Perdue in 2010, resigned during a conference call where Alford was announced as the sole finalist for the job. She told the AJC “There were things that were said and I decided I was not going to be part of the process…I felt like there was undue influence on us. I feel like independence of the board has sort of been taken away.”
Rogers is hardly unique in her feelings of appointed boards and their independence under Governor Deal. Perhaps she missed the “teachable moment” when former Department of Natural Resources Board Member Warren Budd chose to vote against the wishes of the Deal Administration. Budd was publicly called out by the Governor’s office and not re-appointed to his position.
The Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Robinson said at the time that the Governor is looking for people “team players ready to carry out his agenda for the state” and added “if anyone on any board considers himself indispensable, this is what educators call a teachable moment.”
With Rogers’ resignation, Governor Deal will get to select one additional board member to replace an appointee of Governor Perdue early, thus helping solidify his own selection of team players willing to implement his agenda.
The significance of these events is that developer Dan O’Leary is still peddling his color drawings for what he calls a “world class” casino to be placed in Gwinnett County, just of I-85. O’Leary is using a broad definition of the Lottery Corporation’s charter to extend casino style video games as the basis for his proposal. All that is required for his plan to move forward is a vote by the board of Georgia Lottery Corporation. No act of the legislature is required. No signature of the Governor is required.
During his campaign, the Governor briefly indicated he was open to the idea of casino gambling in Georgia before quickly shutting the idea down. His public comments have still indicated he is against the proposal.
Yet during the Republican Convention, a question was mysteriously placed on the Republican ballots for the July primary asking “Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?” The measure was almost evenly split, with .5% more in favor than opposed. It appears the question was to gage feelings within the Republican base on the issue, and may possibly signal another change of heart forthcoming from the Governor.
Funding of the HOPE Scholarship has been one issue which Democrats in the legislature have been able to gain some traction. Costs to attend Georgia colleges and universities have continued to rise faster than lottery funds into the HOPE trust fund have. An opportunity to have an additional income stream flowing into HOPE coffers would have to look very attractive to a Governor, especially if an “independent” board authorized it without requiring any fingerprints from elected politicians.
Except, there already are fingerprints. Let’s consider this one a teachable moment amongst ourselves.