By John Schaffner
Georgia’s Chief Operating Officer James R. Lientz gave members and guests at the Buckhead Business Association’s quarterly luncheon July 19 a non-politician’s view of what it is like working within the political arena of the state government and an update of what has been accomplished during the term of Governor Sonny Perdue.
Lientz told the approximately 200 luncheon attendees that Perdue is a powerful CEO, which is what he said is needed in that post. The state of Georgia has a very strong governor as compared to Texas or South Carolina. “We need to pay attention to who we elect to this job as governor,” he said.
He also said that seeing government in action as an insider “emphasized the brilliance of our founding fathers” with their separation of powers.
Lientz recounted that he spoke to the BBA about four years earlier when he had been in the state COO post for 100 days. He said he recalled the timing because he received a phone call from the governor who said, “Jim we have been here 100 days.” He said he responded to the governor, “Dang, I thought it had been four years already.”
Listing some of the things he has learned, Lientz said the first is “public service is a fight and it is rewarding.” Another thing he said he learned is that running a state the size of Georgia is a big job. “Being the governor of a large state…being CEO as the governor is…is probably the most difficult job in American politics.” He said it is a tough job that requires a lot of different skills.
He said the state has in excess of 100,000 employees, a $20 billion budget and the governor has to deal with major issues every day.
Pointing out that Georgia is the ninth largest state, he told the group that “we grew faster last year percentage wise than all but two states.
“This administration came in with an ambition to change the culture of state government,” Lientz stated. “We wanted to make government more responsive. We wanted to make it principle centered and results oriented.” He said the governor told him, “Jim, I really want to leave it better than I found it. He has worked tirelessly every day to do that,” he added. “I am enjoying being a part of history.”
He pointed out that when Perdue took office, the state was experiencing back-to-back revenue declines. He said the state reserves were rapidly declining to $50 million, a level where it would run the government for about one day. The reserve as of June 30 was $1.2 billion.
Lientz’s background had to be a plus for the governor in his role overseeing the leadership, management and supervising state departments, agencies and their boards and committees and changing the culture of those operations. He had spent over 30 years of experience in financial services, corporate management and civic leadership roles.
He said three words describe the focus of the administration: communication, accountability and teamwork. The native of Savannah and resident of Buckhead said the focus of this administration is customer service.