ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal has named his business partner and two top contributors to the Georgia Ports Authority.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Ken Cronan and James Walters, both of Gainesville, and Hugh M. Tarbutton, of Sandersville, have been appointed to the authority’s governing board. Cronan and Deal are partners in Gainesville Salvage & Disposal.
Cronan’s partnership with the governor has raised ethics questions. Their business once held a lucrative, no-bid agreement with the state to provide space for rebuilt vehicle inspections. Deal and Cronan were paid nearly $300,000 a year by vehicle owners over 20 years.
Walters leases office space to Deal’s campaign and contributed nearly $30,000 to the governor’s 2010 election. Walters also served as chairman of the bank that provided Deal’s campaign with a $250,000 line of credit. The Journal-Constitution reported in 2009 that Deal intervened with state officials while still a congressman to preserve the program. The report led to a congressional ethics investigation that found Deal possibly violated House rules.
Tarbutton, a railroad executive, gave Deal’s campaign more than $16,000.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the three appointees have business experience that will benefit the state in their new roles.
While it is not unusual for a governor to appoint friends to the port authority, some are raising concerns about the appointments. Steven Olson, director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University, calls the appointments “worrisome.”
The authority is a quasi-public agency governed by a 13-member, governor-appointed board. The authority generates more than $39 billion in statewide economic impact. Getting on the board is considered one of state government’s most coveted posts.