Deal shapes Georgia Board of Regents with new appointments

Gov. Nathan Deal enters the budget committee room to speak to lawmakers in January.

Gov. Nathan Deal enters the budget committee room to speak to lawmakers in January.

Gov. Nathan Deal made some appointments Wednesday that could cement his vision for higher education long after he leaves office in about a year.

Deal reappointed two members and picked three new members to the state’s Board of Regents, who serve seven-year terms. Ten of the 19 members have terms that last through the first term of Deal’s successor.

The new members include Erin Hames, who has worked closely with Deal, albeit with some controversy.

Hames, the governor's former deputy chief of staff, authored Deal's Opportunity School District plan, which would have given the state the authority to take schools deemed to be "chronically failing" from the control of local school boards. Georgia voters rejected the proposal last year. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2015 that Hames was going to make $30,000 over the next year consulting Deal on education policy while drawing $96,000 on a no-bid consulting contract with Atlanta Public Schools. Hames is on the Southern Regional Education Board and has been involved with several education advocacy organizations.

Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan defended Hames’ appointment.

“Erin Hames is eminently qualified to serve, given her vast experience in Georgia’s education system,” she said. “As a former classroom teacher, attorney, education policy adviser and adjunct professor, Erin’s insight and perspective will be invaluable to our university system and its students.”

In addition to Hames, Deal appointed Barbara Rivera Holmes, president and chief executive officer of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, and W. Allen Gudenrath, a senior vice president of Morgan Stanley's wealth management division. They replace Larry Walker, who recently announced he's retiring, and Rusty Griffin Jr. and Doreen Stiles Poitevint, whose terms expire on New Year's Day. Deal reappointed C. Thomas Hopkins and Don L. Waters.

The Board of Regents is one of the most prestigious appointments in state government because of its influence over higher education in Georgia. It oversees education policy for the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia and also hires and can fire presidents of those institutions. Board members, who are appointed by the governor, receive $105 a day for days they attend meetings and are reimbursed for expenses. Most of them received between $2,000 to $3,000 during the state’s 2016 fiscal year, state records show.

Deal has emphasized colleges educating students with skills to fill jobs in high-growth industries, particularly those that involve science, technology, engineering and math. Eric Tanenblatt, who was a chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, said while Regents members work independently of the governor’s office, most board members typically share that governor’s viewpoint.

The new board will still be overwhelming male, with four women. Deal appointed the two other current female members, Laura Marsh and Sarah-Elizabeth Reed, in 2016 and February 2017.