Georgia’s top economic development official will become the state’s attorney general in November, replacing Sam Olens when he departs to lead the state’s third-largest university.
On Wednesday, less than an hour after the University System of Georgia’s governing board finalized Olens’ hire as president of Kennesaw State University, Deal announced that Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr will replace Olens as the state’s top law enforcement official.
Both appointments are controversial in some circles. Carr doesn’t have any courtroom experience, and Kennesaw State faculty and students questioned Olens’ credentials to lead an academic institution.
Deal said Carr’s work heading up the state’s economic development efforts demonstrated that he’s qualified to lead the Department of Law. Deal said the attorney general’s primary role is “administrative.”
“Chris’ experience as an attorney, a job creator and a public servant in my opinion make him the ideal candidate to fill this vital role,” Deal said.
Carr previously worked as Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s chief of staff. He’s worked as an attorney for Georgia Pacific, at law firm Alston & Bird and as general counsel for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Carr acknowledged he hasn’t personally tried a case but said his career has given him a range of legal experience.
“I’m going to rely on the experts that are at the Department of Law,” Carr said. “I think the skillset that I bring most is on the policy side and on the managerial side truly supporting those lawyers and those professionals that are working every day for the state.”
Deal said his staff considered the state constitution’s requirement that the attorney general is an active-status member of the State Bar of Georgia for seven years, and determined that Carr met it.
Olens was easily re-elected to a four-year term in 2014. Carr said he “absolutely” plans to run statewide in 2018. Deal’s office released statements of support for Carr from top Republicans and Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed, along with officials from prominent law firms and companies in Georgia.
Olens will take over at Kennesaw State following a series of ethical and other breaches by former school administrators.
In early June, auditors found the school’s former president Dan Papp received more than $577,000 in deferred compensation along with other payments that broke school rules. Another audit reported that a school administrator overseeing food service did consulting work for a vendor, improperly charged the school for conference travel and used his position to get friends and family hired.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said that background prompted the decision to forego a national search. Huckaby said Olens, who previously led the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, is prepared despite a lack of academic experience.
“We feel that given Sam’s background, his experience running a very large, complicated government entity like Cobb County will stand him in good stead,” Huckaby said.
Students and faculty at Kennesaw State have objected to Olens’ appointment, upset that a national search wasn’t conducted for the next leader of Georgia’s third-largest university. A group of students protested at the Board of Regents meeting before the vote on Olens hire, upset that as attorney general he opposed a federal directive that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room suitable to their gender identity.
Humayun Zafar, president of the faculty senate at Kennesaw State University, unsuccessfully asked board members to put off Wednesday’s vote and conduct a national search for the school’s next leader. Zafar, an associate professor in KSU’s College of Business, said he has no objection to Olens specifically but believes the selection of a president will impact the school’s direction for years.
“Today, the devoted faculty at KSU believes its voice has been ignored,” Zafar told board members.