Deal gives new jobs, big raises to 3 officers on his security detail

In the first few weeks following his re-election, Gov. Nathan Deal promoted three Georgia State Patrol officers on his security detail, giving them new titles and substantial raises.

David Herring, who is a ubiquitous presence at the governor’s side, was promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. Sgt. Chris Wigginton was appointed to head Georgia’s law enforcement training agency. And Sgt. James Andrews was tapped as a deputy of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

The veteran officers have developed a close relationship with the governor and his family after years of protecting him during a grueling schedule of events ranging from mundane luncheons to overseas trade missions. Few outside of his circle of close advisers and relatives spend more time with the governor than these men.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the three men are “experienced, capable and have excellent service records” built over a combined 69 years in public service. He said the three will bring a wealth of knowledge and decades of experience into their new roles.

The governor's critics say the appointments follow a pattern of Deal appointing loyalists to key positions since his November victory. William Perry of Common Cause of Georgia, a government watchdog group, said the three may be more than qualified for the promotions but that they benefit from a "friends and family" plan.

“I’m not saying it specifically about these gentlemen because I don’t know their backgrounds,” Perry said. “But their promotions are tainted by the governor’s history of appointing people who are not qualified for the positions they are appointed to.”

The details emerged after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

Herring heads the executive security unit of the Department of Public Safety that provides around-the-clock security for Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston. His promotion merited a raise from roughly $71,000 to slightly more than $125,000, and Robinson said it reflected his status as the head of the security detail.

“This was an appropriate structural change,” Robinson said. “And future heads of the executive detail will maintain this rank, even after the Deal administration.”

Wigginton is a longtime law enforcement officer and a military veteran who once trained police officers for deployments in Iraq and prepped security forces in Jordan. He made his public debut as director of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center at a December event honoring law enforcement heroes.

He replaces Tim Bearden, a former GOP lawmaker, who said he left for a private-sector job. Wigginton’s salary more than doubled to $125,500.

And Andrews was tapped for the No. 2 role in an agency that has come under recent scrutiny after its director, Harris Blackwood, was accused of making inappropriate comments about sexual activities to his employees. Blackwood has apologized for the comments.

Among the employees who filed complaints was the highway safety office's then-deputy, Lauren Armour Pugh, who now works for the state's technical college system. Deal in January signed an executive order requiring the agency's director or deputy to be a certified officer of the peace, paving the way for Andrews' appointment. His salary nearly doubled to about $120,000.

“The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety works hand in hand with law enforcement, and there’s much crossover,” Robinson said. “Governor Deal wanted a trained law enforcement officer in leadership there.”

Criminal justice experts say it’s not surprising that the governor has forged close bonds with the officers, who are among more than a dozen assigned to protect Deal and his family.

They drive Deal to events, oversee his travel plans and staff a security office at the Governor’s Mansion around the clock. Andrews and Herring have been on Deal’s detail since before his 2010 election, and all three were familiar sights at stops along his often rigorous daily schedule.