Longtime state agency manager named acting University System of Georgia chancellor

Teresa MacCartney

ATLANTA – The University System of Georgia Board of Regents Wednesday named state government veteran Teresa MacCartney acting chancellor of the system while the board continues its search for a permanent successor to the retiring Steve Wrigley.

MacCartney, who will take over the role July 1, has served as the university system’s executive vice chancellor for administration since 2019, where she oversees departments including cybersecurity, human resources, legal affairs, economic development and real estate and facilities.

Before that, MacCartney was the state’s chief financial officer and headed the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. She also has held several other leadership roles throughout state government, including with the Georgia Student Finance Commission and state Department of Education.

“We are grateful to Teresa for stepping into this interim role,” board Chairman Sachin Shailendra said Wednesday. “As a member of the university system’s senior leadership team and a veteran public servant, she will keep a steady hand on USG’s progress as the board finds the next chancellor of one of the top university systems in the nation.”

“I appreciate the board’s confidence in me to ensure USG and our 26 institutions remain focused during this transition on doing all we can to help more Georgians earn their college degrees,” MacCartney said.

Wrigley announced in January he was retiring at the end of this month after 36 years in public service, including more than four years as chancellor. 

The board has struggled to hire a successor. At one point, the regents were forced to retain a second executive search firm after the first quit the job.

Former Gov. and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly has won the support of some board members but not enough to land the job.

The board is working with the executive search firm WittKieffer in a national search for the next chancellor.

Kemp taps new Department of Community Health chief

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp is transferring two members of his staff to the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH).

Kemp’s deputy chief of staff for operations, Caylee Noggle, will take over July 1 as the agency’s commissioner, succeeding the retiring Frank Berry.

Ryan Loke, now deputy chief operating officer in the governor’s office, also will join the DCH as deputy commissioner and chief health policy officer.

Noggle is a veteran of state government, having served as an interim chief of staff in the Kemp administration and, before that, as interim chief of staff for the Georgia Department of Public Health and chief management officer for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

Before joining the administration early last year, she held several management roles with the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

“Caylee Noggle has done a remarkable job throughout her service in state government – including in her integral role throughout the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kemp said.

“Caylee brings years of in-depth knowledge and management expertise to a complex state agency that will greatly benefit from her diverse experience and leadership. Georgians will be well-served by having her at the helm of DCH as the agency continues to deliver critical services to the people of our state.”

Loke is currently deputy chief operating officer in the governor’s office. Before that, he served as the governor’s health policy advisor.

Prior to joining the Kemp administration, Loke worked in the private sector advising several Georgia-based companies on legislative strategy.

Berry is retiring after 26 years in state government in various roles.

The DCH serves nearly three million Georgians with an annual budget of $17 billion, including state and federal dollars.

Kemp issues final public health emergency order for COVID-19

Georgia Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey talks about coronavirus testing at a news conference on March 5, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp Tuesday issued what is expected to be the last statewide public health emergency of the coronavirus pandemic era.

The order will expire on Thursday, July 1, at 12 a.m.

“I appreciate the General Assembly granting my office this authority in order to swiftly and appropriately respond to the coronavirus pandemic,” Kemp said. “We worked together – along with the Department of Public Health, dozens of state agencies, local leaders, private sector partners, and countless others – to protect both lives and livelihoods.

“Thanks to those efforts, more Georgians are getting vaccinated, our economic momentum is strong, and people are getting back to normal.”

Kemp issued the first of a long series of public health emergency orders in March of last year as COVID-19 took hold in Georgia. The restrictions included in those orders have varied depending on the severity of the threat posed by the virus.

Early on, many businesses shut down and laid off their workers, while restaurants stopped serving customers inside their establishments and provided only pickup and delivery service.

More recently, companies have brought employees back to their offices at least part of the time, but those who can work at home have gotten used to the convenience and are continuing to do so if allowed by their bosses.

As of Tuesday, the state Department of Public Health has reported 901,472 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 64,697 hospitalizations. The virus has killed 18,407 Georgians.

In Georgia, the virus hit an early peak last July, then hit a second higher peak in January before tapering off substantially.

More than 3.8 million Georgians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 37% of the state’s population, a vaccination rate that continues to lag the national average.

While there will be no more public health emergency declarations, Kemp said he plans to issue an executive order next week that will continue aiding the state and Georgia job creators as they fully recover from the pandemic. The order will include the suspension of various state rules and regulations, the governor said.

Georgia Department of Labor sued over delays in unemployment claims

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – The Southern Poverty Law Center and an Atlanta-based law firm filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against the Georgia Department of Labor over unprocessed and unpaid unemployment claims.

The suit, filed in Fulton County, charges extreme delays in the handling of claims throughout the coronavirus pandemic in violation of state and federal law.

Four plaintiffs represented by the Montgomery, Ala.-based center and Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore LLP are seeking relief for delays suffered by unemployed Georgians in initial determinations of eligibility for benefits, in payments of benefits and in appeals of adverse decisions.

“The pandemic created the largest unemployment crisis in generations, and throughout this trying time [the labor department] has refused to follow the law in providing help to people who desperately need it,” said Emily Early, senior supervising staff attorney for the center’s Economic Justice Project.

“State and federal law guarantee promptness and due process rights and [the department] has ignored those rights. … This catastrophe cannot continue.” 

State lawmakers besieged by complaints from unemployed constituents also have criticized the department’s handling of unemployment claims since COVID-19 took hold in Georgia in March of last year.

The General Assembly responded by passing legislation this year creating the position of chief labor officer to work with Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler in expediting the handling of unemployment claims.

However, Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed the bill, arguing the new position would have conflicted with the constitutional authority of Georgia’s elected labor commissioner without providing any legal mechanism to resolve disputes between the two.

In opposing the chief labor officer bill before a legislative committee, Butler pointed to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, which saddled his agency with more unemployed claims in months than it had been called on to handle during the previous decade.

He said he has sought more funding for the department for years to no avail.

On Tuesday, Butler said the lawsuit is politically motivated and without merit.

“These groups believe that unemployment insurance should be paid to everyone who applies, regardless of their qualifications,” he said. “The same groups should be more concerned with helping people go back to work in one of the hundreds of thousands of jobs currently available across the state of Georgia.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction forcing the labor department to comply with state law and to enforce the plaintiffs’ federal due process rights. It also asks for monetary damages.

Freshly to open second distribution center in Georgia

Georgia Commissioner of Economic Development Pat Wilson

ATLANTA – Fresh-prepared meal delivery service Freshly Inc. is expanding its presence in Georgia.

The company announced Tuesday plans to open a distribution operation in Clayton County. The $52 million investment will create 665 jobs.

“It’s great to see Freshly continue to find success in Georgia and expand their presence in the Southeast,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

New York-based Freshly opened its first Southeastern distribution center in Cobb County earlier this year. The new facility in Ellenwood will help the fast-growing company meet increasing demand sparked by customers’ desire during the coronavirus pandemic to eat their meals at home.

“Over the past year, Freshly has experience substantial growth as consumer demand continues to grow for convenient and nutritious meal options,” said Mike Wystrach, Freshly’s founder and CEO. “Tapping into Clayton County’s tremendous pool of talent, the second facility will allow us to increase capacity for efficient assembly and distribution of our chef-prepared meals.”

Freshly plans to begin hiring at the new center for positions in warehousing, operations and maintenance. Interested applicants should visit Freshly’s careers page for more information.

Director Hank Evans of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce Division worked with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Clayton County Office of Economic Development, Electric Cities of Georgia and the state Department of Labor’s Quick Start program on the project.

“Just four months after announcing Freshly’s initial investment in Georgia, it is exciting to see them continue to expand here and create hundreds of jobs in Georgia, state Commissioner of Economic Development Pat Wilson said. “Freshly’s growth in the state is a testament to how well companies have adapted to rapidly changing consumer behavior and to Georgia, with our strong logistics infrastructure, being the ideal place for companies within this growing sector to locate and expand.”