A member of the Georgia Lottery Board resigned last week because she thought the panel was feeling pressured to hire the governor’s budget director to run one of the country’s most successful lotteries.
Frances Rogers, who has served on the board since late 2010, said she hung up the phone in the middle of a conference call to discuss a new lottery president last week and immediately resigned.
“There were things that were said and I decided I was not going to be able to be part of the process,” she said.
“I felt like there was undue influence on us. I feel like the independence of the board has sort of been taken away.”
Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, said the governor’s chief of staff called board members individually nearly two months ago to tell them that the governor’s choice for the job was Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and a member of the lottery board.
The board is expected to approve the appointment of Alford — who has never worked for a lottery — on Oct. 23. She would replace Lottery President Margaret DeFrancisco, who announced in August she would retire. The board told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Alford was the lone finalist.
Rogers of Atlanta, who was appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, said her decision to resign had nothing to do with Alford or anyone else on the board.
“It has nothing to do with who the candidate is, who I am sure will grow in the job and do well. It’s about the process,” she said. “We weren’t told who to hire. But the process was broken when the word got out someone was a candidate (backed by the governor).”
Rogers said the board posted the job on lottery websites across the country but got only 11 resumes, none from Georgia Lottery staffers and none from the people the board had hoped would apply. By comparison, the state had 300 applicants when the job was last open in 2003.
“Would you have quit your top lottery job somewhere and applied for one somewhere where you knew you weren’t welcome by the governor?” Rogers asked.
“Debbie applied. Of the candidates that applied, she’s probably the best choice. I am sure she will do a very good job.”
The lottery —- with $3.8 billion in sales last year —- pumps more than $900 million into the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs each year. Since its inception in 1992, sales have fallen only in three years, but they have not kept up with the growth of HOPE, and scholarships have been cut.
In a statement Thursday, Alford said, “I’m happy to be a finalist and look forward to the board’s vote.
“As state CFO, OPB director and lottery board member, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the lottery corporation on a myriad of issues, including revenue, budget, operations and legislation. Over the past decade, I’ve been actively engaged with and have a passion for the two programs funded with lottery proceeds.
“If selected, I look forward to working with the exceptional Georgia Lottery team in growing the lottery, building on past success and meeting the demands of these vitally important programs.”
Robinson said it’s not unheard of for lottery directors to not have lottery experience before they take the job. He said half of the lottery directors around the country had not run a lottery before they were hired.
Alford served as president of Georgia’s virtual technical college and as deputy director of the budget office before taking over the top budget job in 2010. Her husband, Dean Alford, is a former state lawmaker who was appointed to the state Board of Regents by Deal earlier this year.
The governor is tasked with appointing members to the seven-member lottery board.