Sonny Perdue cannot under any circumstances be selected as Chancellor of the University System of Georgia. A job that pays a hefty $520,00 a year by the way. Aside from the fact that he is completely unqualified, he also has a long history of ethical violations and other very questionable decisions that have made him one very wealthy man. The last time a political crony, Sam Olens, was rewarded a posh job as president of Kennesaw State it barely lasted a year. Sam Olens was an unqualified political appointee that mirrors Sonny Perdue.
The only possible reason Governor Kemp would have to push for Perdue is to pay him back for a favor Perdue did for Kemp. Back in 2010, at the end of Perdue’s stint as governor, he appointed Kemp as Georgia’s secretary of state A job Kemp ultimately used to become Governor since he oversaw his own election against Stacey Abrams. Remember all those messed-up votes at Kennesaw State University? Yeah, Sam Olens was conveniently the president at KSU at the time.
The Board of Regents – The Untouchables
Even though the Board of Regents sometimes called the “Southern mafia” technically selects the Chancellor, it’s well known that the governor will get who he wants, whether he proposes a name or whether his allies propose a name. The members of the BOR were all appointed by recent Governors many of whom are beholden to Kemp and Perdue. They also have a long history of coverups and obfuscations.
A former member of the Georgia Board of Regents is currently facing racketing and forgery charges. Clarence D. Alford was indicted on May 4 by the Rockdale County Superior Court. Alford faces several charges, including racketeering, and computer forgery. He must have pissed off the wrong power broker or you can bet your last dollar he would have never been charged.
The BOR recently selected an interim chancellor named Teresa MacCartney as acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia, effective July 1, 2021 while they presumably conduct a national search with WittKieffer. But make no mistake, this is solely for appearance’s sake and the hope that the controversy about Perdue will die down in a few weeks or months. If the controversy about Perdue subsides you can be sure he will quietly be selected regardless of any national search that is probably costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to put on a good show.
The only chance Sonny Perdue will not be selected chancellor is if charges are brought against him in the latest Archer-Daniels-Midland scandal. He purchased the property from ADM for $250,000 even though it was valued at $5 million then proceeded to make life very sweet for ADM as Secretary of Agriculture. But, this scandal is no worse than many of his past controversies and slippery Sonny got away on all of them with barely a slap on the wrist. Without an indictment, he will continue the tradition of a long line of unqualified chancellors appointed not for their expertise but as a reward for loyal political service in a few short months.
By the way, if you are looking for a great primer about corruption in Georgia education I highly recommend Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia by Richard Whitt.
A little backstory
have been writing about the corruption surrounding the USG and at the Board of Regents for seven years. Most notably were cases involving Denise Caldon who continues to fight to clear her name and Anthony Tricoli who sadly has passed away but continued fighting till the very end.
Anthony Tricoli sued the USG’s leaders, Steve Wrigley and Hank Huckaby, for violating Regents policies incorporated in Tricoli’s written contract—including the policy guaranteeing Tricoli a statement of specific charges and a hearing. They fired Tricoli after it was publicly revealed that GPC financial reports were falsified to hide the disappearance of GPC’s $20.9 million reserve fund. A USG postmortem review found that the falsifications had been hidden from Tricoli, so a hearing into these matters would have helped his cause at the time which would have embarrassed the entire USG.
The Georgia Court of Appeals, however, handed down a broad ruling that sovereign immunity barred Tricoli from pursuing his breach of contract case for violation of Regents policy, even if Wrigley and Huckaby had committed crimes. Think about that for a minute. Regardless of any possible fraud or crimes committed by top officials within the USG, they are essentially immune from any prosecution or repercussions. Does that make any sense at all?
Attorney General Sam Olens allowed Huckaby and Wrigley to lead an investigation of themselves in the GPC financial scandal. The USG then appointed Sam Olens president of Kennesaw State after firing then-president Dan Papp. When KSU faculty tried to block that appointment for political interference and favoritism, not to mention potential extortion and bribery, Olens’ successor as attorney general, Chris Carr, never responded to any of the allegations in the lawsuit. Hank Huckaby was then made Chancellor of the USG. Chris Carr was another unqualified appointee who hadn’t even practiced law in a decade and had NEVER even tried a case. Starting to see a pattern here?
Forget the favoritism for a second as it might be forgiven had any of these men been the least bit qualified to serve as a university president, attorney general, or chancellor of the USG. They weren’t. They were appointed precisely because they were unqualified and would be eternally grateful to their benefactors. Since Georgia courts have decided that the USG and Board of Regents are immune and therefore cannot be sued I doubt the BOR are losing any sleep worrying about any comeuppance. While Chris Carr is the attorney general, he can protect the whole stinking web of favoritism and the good ol’ boy network. Basically, the Board of Regents can do as they please with the surety of knowing that thanks to sovereign immunity and a compliant AG they can not be held accountable.
It is a very broken system but it works very well for the top brass of the Georgia Republican party. Step 1: Appoint an unqualified idiot who will be grateful and does as he is told Step 2: In a year they will run as an incumbent Republican which is almost a guarantee of getting elected to a full term in Georgia. Step 3 – Wait for orders from your overlords who gave you this cushy job. Step 4 – Retire in a year or two with a massive pension for the remainder of your life and make way for a new rube to take your place.
Sam Olens, Chris Carr, Brian Kemp, Hank Huckaby, Steve Wrigley, the entire Board of Regents, are just a few of the people who are far more beholden to Republican puppet masters than the people of Georgia. Unfortunately, the apathy of the public and of most journalists largely ensures their continued success. How do you think former Governor Nathan Deal avoid indictment all those years with all the evidence against him?
Sonny “Go Fish” Perdue’s Resumé while Governor
Perdue is from Houston County which is around 100 miles from Atlanta and even further from the coast. Starting in 2007 Perdue began acquiring bond money to build and maintain the Go Fish Education Center near his home in Perry, GA.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the debt, $20 million with interest, won’t be paid off until Dec. 1, 2027. Including bond payments, salaries and overhead, the state is paying out more than $1.5 million a year to keep the center going. It is open to the public three days a week, but school groups reserve it for field trips on other days.
The entire spending from 2007 to 2027 will likely be well above $45 million if you include bonds, debt, and running costs. The project is a colossal waste of taxpayer money due to mismanagement of bond money and also due to the extremely low number of visitors. It generates about 11 cents for every dollar it cost to run the center in years past. It will continue to lose money for as long as it remains open.
During his governorship, the Georgia State Ethics Commission received thirteen complaints against Perdue. The State Ethics Commission ruled against Perdue twice, finding that he had taken improper campaign contributions from donors including and that he had improperly used one of his family business’s airplanes on the campaign, for which the commission fined the sitting governor.
In 2003 Perdue purchased 101 acres of land next to his Houston County, Georgia, home.The land was adjacent to the 20,000-acre Oaky Woods preserve being sold by Weyerhaeuser. After the state conveniently dropped out of the bidding to keep the land as a preserve, the land was sold to developers, the value of Perdue’s property more than doubled. Perdue failed to disclose his ownership of the property in required financial disclosure forms.
In December 2004, Perdue bought $2 million worth of land near Disney World from a developer whom he had previously appointed to the state’s economic development board. A 2005 tax bill passed by the Georgia Legislature allowed residents to gain a tax break if they sold a property in Georgia to buy similar property in another state, and made the change retroactive to 2004. The new law saved Perdue $100,000 in state taxes, personally.
In June 2021, a news story broke of financial dealings Perdue had after his nomination as Secretary of Agriculture but before his confirmation. On December 30, 2016, Perdue’s company AGrowStar purchased a property and a facility from Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), a large American agribusiness corporation that the Department of Agriculture regulates.
The property in Estill, South Carolina had originally been purchased by ADM for 5.5 million dollars, and independent assessments and government tax assessors agree on that as a fair range; however, AGrowStar was offered the property for 250,000 USD, a fraction of its value. After the sale, the huge boiler on the property was sold for approximately $500,000, easily covering the $250,000 cost of the purchase even if the rest of the land had been valueless. A low-ball estimate of the value of storage in the grain silos was 3 million USD. That translates to a profit to Sonny Perdue of around $5.25 million. Not a bad payday.
Perdue’s years as Secretary of Agriculture were good ones for ADM. The Washington Post detailed several wish-list items that ADM achieved: loosening of regulations on pork production, fewer inspections, helping lobby against proposed government bans on glyphosate by Thailand and Vietnam, and promoting ethanol and biodiesel.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the ethical shortcomings of Sonny Perdue, just a few of the highlights. Although not an ethics violation, one of my own personal favorites anecdotes is the time Perdue led a group of several hundred people in prayer on the steps of the state Capitol for rain during an especially bad drought in 2007. Perdue addressed the crowd, saying “We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: to very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm” and “God, we need you; we need rain”. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “As the vigil ended, the sun shone through what had been a cloudy morning. In fact, for the next two weeks after the prayer, the state’s epic dry streak grew worse.”
Reasons Against Appointing Sonny Perdue
Sonny Perdue might be the least distinguished, least prepared potential university leader I’ve seen in my life,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and a longtime observer of university governance politics.
The most obvious reason not to appoint Sonny Perdue is that he is indeed uniquely unqualified. Being a Governor or Secretary of Agriculture doesn’t translate into running a large university system. You don’t go to a car mechanic for open-heart surgery and you don’t appoint someone with no experience running a university to oversee the entire system of universities in a state. His resumé is eerily similar to Sam Olens who was the sole candidate for the position of KSU president. We all know how that turned out. Doesn’t it make much more sense to appoint someone with an academic background, an understanding, and experience to run a system with a $15 billion budget? Instead of Go Fish imagine Go Whale!
Many students have also started to resist and fight against the consideration of Perdue as USG’s next chancellor. A student-led coalition called Students Against Sonny created a petition urging students to sign in opposition to Perdue’s election. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission also sent a letter to the Board of Regents after reading news coverage suggesting that regents were being politically pressured to name Perdue to head the system.
The USG desperately needs new blood. University systems flourish when they bring in the best and the brightest after an exhaustive national search. We need to end the tradition of rewarding this important position to unqualified political loyalists who owe favors. Nathan Deal hand-picked Hank Huckaby who lacked a PhD. as USG chancellor in 2011. He was an embarrassment and completely out of his depth. He was followed by another incompetent member of the good ol’ boy club of Georgia politics named Steve Wrigley who thankfully just retired.
Georgia needs new ideas and more importantly, they need to hire someone qualified to do the job out of the gate. Perdue is not that man. He is 74 years old and likely worth north of $10 million. he doesn’t need the money. So why does he even want this job? Instead of campaigning for chancellor methinks ol’ Sonny needs to Go Fish instead. If he happens to read this article I advise him to read Crisis in Higher Education: Theory and Practice by Ralph Gigliotti. He will very quickly withdraw his name from consideration.
Below is a letter from United Campus Workers of Georgia which celebrates the departure of Steve Wrigley and asks that faculty and students have a voice in the search for a replacement.
The union said Wrigley’s retirement which became effective July 1—is “great news for campus workers” and called on the Board of Regents to take input from students, faculty, and staff before choosing the next chancellor.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Steven Wrigley, Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, announced his upcoming retirement. This is great news for campus workers throughout the university system. Chancellor Wrigley presided over a period of disastrous policies for the health and well-being of campus communities, first and foremost being a reckless and irresponsible COVID-19 pandemic response.
The Chancellor and the Board of Regents have astounded campus workers by pushing for more and more in-person instruction as the pandemic worsened, seemingly for the benefit of private companies to whom crucial campus services have been contracted throughout a decade of austerity for public higher education. Campus workers and students had to strenuously fight the Chancellor for a simple mask mandate in accordance with basic CDC guidance.
The Chancellor of the University System of Georgia is chosen by the Board of Regents, who are in turn appointed by the governor and rubber-stamped by the Georgia legislature. As the central authority in Atlanta has relentlessly commandeered more and more functions formerly performed by individual campuses, the people who live, work, and learn throughout the USG have seen their voices utterly discounted.
We call on the Board of Regents to democratize the process of selecting the next Chancellor and heed input from all sections of our campus communities, including faculty, students, and staff. The appointment process should be open and transparent, with two-way dialogue occurring between students and employees at all levels. We call on the Board of Regents to consider candidates with backgrounds in classroom instruction and public health who have the experience necessary to lead the workforce of our educational institutions through a deadly public health crisis in a way that prioritizes our health and well-being over business and political interests.
Let us conclude in a spirit of optimism: with Chancellor Wrigley’s retirement, a new era of cooperation and openness between administrators and campus stakeholders has become possible. We hope that the Regents will display the wisdom to choose it.