Gov. Kemp makes long overdue changes to board of regents

Published 1:51 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

Gov. Brian Kemp has made some crackerjack appointments since taking office in January, but none better than naming Atlanta real estate executive Sam Holmes to the Board of Regents, which oversees the University System of Georgia.

Holmes comes from good stock. His dad, businessman Paul Holmes, is one of the most widely respected and best-liked souls in the state. His momma is Susan Dykes Holmes, former mayor of Monticello and currently a state representative. Despite their stellar credentials, they are what we in the South call good folks.

The governor also appointed Jose Perez of Gwinnett County to the Regents, as well as reappointing Dean Alford of Conyers.

Email newsletter signup

Gone from the board is deep-pocketed liquor baron Don Leebern, first appointed to the Board of Regents by Gov. Zell Miller in 1991 and subsequently reappointed by the administrations of Roy Barnes, George E. Perdue and Nathan Deal. Before leaving office, Deal made a somewhat clumsy attempt to reappoint Leebern for another seven-year term, along with 63 other board appointments. Oops! He found out there is a new sheriff in town named Geoff Duncan.

Georgia law requires the state Senate to approve a governor’s appointments to boards, commissions and bureaus. That is usually a mere formality. Not this time. Lt. Gov. Duncan’s staff stated that Deal’s appointments were not properly submitted.

Deal’s office sent his wish list to Duncan on Jan. 14, the day the lieutenant governor was sworn into office. Duncan attorney Regina Quick ruled that the list wasn’t submitted correctly because it was sent to the lieutenant governor before he took the oath of office. Instead, she wrote, the list should have gone to the secretary of the state Senate, the de facto leader of the Senate before a presiding officer is sworn in. Details, details.

Now, I am not privy to what goes on in the rarified air level of governors and lieutenant governors, but I do have a theory. It goes like this: Gov. Nathan Deal knew what he was doing. He was giving the sleeves out of his political vest by submitting Leebern’s name — and the others — when and how he did, and he likely knew what the outcome would be. But he could tell Leebern that he had given it the ol’ college try and it wasn’t his fault that the new crowd decided to go all nit-picky on him.

You would think the Deal team had been around long enough to know better than to see his list of potential appointees submarined because of a mere technicality. Surely, they would have checked all of this out beforehand. That’s why God invented telephones.

Getting rid of Leebern has opened the door to giving Vince Dooley, UGA’s Hall of Fame football coach the recognition that has been long overdue. With Don Leeburn out of the picture, the Board of Regents decided in their wisdom to designate the field at Sanford Stadium as Dooley Field. (It is only a staggering coincidence that Gov. Kemp is from Athens, a lifelong friend of the Dooleys and roomed at UGA with the coach’s son, David.)

I have been advocating this kind of recognition for Vince Dooley since 2003 to no avail. The tag team of Leeburn and former UGA President Michael Adams was too formidable. If Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like, it is obvious he never met Mike Adams. I think even Mother Teresa would have taken a pass on the guy.

There was room for only one ego at the university in those days and it had to be Adams’. He couldn’t stand to share the spotlight with Vince Dooley, by now athletic director. He was ably aided and abetted by Don Leebern who had his own ax to grind with Dooley, concerning in part Leebern’s ongoing affair with former UGA gymnastics coach and athletic department employee Suzanne Yoculan, even though he has never divorced his current wife.

And there were other ham-handed actions like Leebern and Yoculan taking six members of the gymnastics team to New York on his private jet shortly after their NCAA eligibility expired, a violation of NCAA rules. Leebern also violated Board of Regents policy by promoting wine with a trademarked UGA logo. Nobody has seemed willing or able to stand up to the man until now. Enter Brian Kemp.

Happily, a new broom sweeps clean and Gov. Kemp has done just that with the Board of Regents. It was long overdue. May his future appointments be as good.