Georgia’s First Lady is expanding her service role to children in the state.
Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, has agreed to lead the advisory board for the Governor's Office for Children and Families (GOCF).
“It’s important for us to concentrate on our children and our families for the sake of our state,” Mrs. Deal said during the news conference led by the governor, along with House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
It was also announced that Katie Joe Ballard has been tapped to take on the role of GOCF’s Executive Director.
“I’m excited; I have some big shoes to fill,” said Ballard after the event today in the North Wing of the state capitol. “I look forward to working with the First Lady on carrying on the mission of GOCF.”
Mrs. Deal said in the position, she intends to focus on a diverse array of issues affecting Georgia’s children, including education, childhood obesity and human trafficking.
“I’m like a mother bear fighting for her cubs,” quipped Mrs. Deal, citing her credentials as a mother, grandmother and teacher. “I want to do what I can to fight for the children in the state.”
Ballard previously served as Gov. Deal’s director of Constituent Services. In this capacity, she oversaw 15 employees of the staff who handle constituent correspondence and serve as a liaison between Georgians and state agencies.
She replaces Jennifer Bennecke who will officially resign on August 15. Bennecke, who is pregnant with her first child, will not return following maternity leave, according to an email circulated to GOCF’s advisory board last month. Bennecke’s departure comes not long after JJIE.org received a letter to GOCF from the Georgia Office of Audits and Accounts announcing plans to perform a “special examination” of GOCF’s “performance and expenditures, including Children’s Trust Fund revenues, that may be considered in connection with potential mergers with other organizations.”
Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue created GOCF in 2008 by joining together the Children’s Trust Fund Commission and the Children and Youth Coordinating Council into one organization. Bennecke was the new organization’s first executive director.
JJIE also reported that Bennecke was also at the center of some controversy earlier this year when Gov. Deal attempted to fold another organization, the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, a 20-year old statewide public-private collaboration, and its budget of nearly $8 Million, into GOCF.
During the news conference, Gov. Deal also announced plans for a special legislative session to begin on August 15. He says the proposed controversial one-cent SPLOST sales tax hike and redistricting will be priorities during the special session.
Speaker Ralston said he looks forward to an expedient, yet “transparent, open and fair” redistricting session. “We want to get it done and get out of there,” he said. Gov. Deal came under fire this week from House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) who accused his administration of attempting to purge “the state of Georgia of white Democrats.”
Rep. Abrams said the current plans to create 49 “majority-minority” House districts, represents an increase of seven over the existing configuration.
Speaker Ralston called Rep. Abram’s comments “factually wrong” and “harmful to Georgia.” Lt. Governor Cagle agreed. He asserted that the session will include input from both Georgia lawmakers and citizens.
“We have a responsibility to the citizens of the state to have their voices heard in this process,” he said. “Those voices will be heard.”