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Man running Georgia out of sight, out of mind

Calvin Kytle and James Mackay's great 1947 book "Who Runs Georgia?" desperately needs updating.

The final chapter of the revised work might be captioned: "No One You Know."

Georgia appears to have no identifiable ringmasters - no leader or group of leaders capable of snapping their fingers and making good things happen.

Last month, at the end of his first General Assembly as Senate presiding officer Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle showed promise of moving into the state's driver's seat. At age 41, he is just beginning to work his way up.

What about the present? Who pulls the levers and turns the wheels that keep Georgia rolling in this time of near anarchy among elected leaders?

Try this name: James R. "Jim" Lientz. Never heard of him? Don't worry. You're not alone. Lientz is a retired big-time banker who holds the title "chief operating officer" of Georgia."

In effect, he is Gov. Sonny Perdue's executive officer. Don't confuse Lientz with executive chief of staff Ed Holcombe, the governor's political operative, a sort of junior-grade Karl Rove and former Georgia Power lobbyist.

Lientz is the behind-the-scenes manager/director of just about everything in state government. He is the boss of the state's growing payroll of 100,000-plus workers.

Before Lientz joined the Perdue administration, he was a model civic do-gooder and a Wall Street idol. Bank of America owes part of its stunning success to Lientz's executive talents as small-business-banking president.

As chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in 2000, Lientz led the chamber's successful effort to induce Gov. Roy Barnes to change the state flag. He argued that downplaying the Confederate insignia was more than a smart business decision; it was morally correct.

Then Lientz, after 30 years in banking, joined Team Perdue where he has become one of its most loyal and enduring - and secretive - members.

No one knows much about the post-Bank of America Lientz or his business interests beyond state government. He shuns the limelight like a bat avoiding sunlight.

To get a closer look at Lientz and his outside business connections, former Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn filed an ethics complaint against the COO, contending he had failed to comply with Georgia's financial reporting laws.

The ethics complaint, which landed in the Capitol in November, sank from sight without a ripple. Part of the reason for its silent disappearance: Kahn went on a tear with other ethics complaints, including his famous allegation that House Speaker Glenn Richardson conducted an "inappropriate relationship" with a female lobbyist who was seeking passage of a gas-pipeline bill. That writ, although dismissed without a hearing by a Richardson-controlled panel, may have chilled the speaker's gubernatorial ambitions.

The complaint against Lientz raises different questions that no one has bothered to answer, to wit:

• As a member of the Georgia Ports Authority, Lientz filed a personal financial disclosure statement with the Ethics Commission in which he said he held "no fiduciary positions in any business entity." Yet Lientz's personal biography reveals that he is a director of the following firms: FCB Financial Corporation, Georgia Power Company, Georgia Banking Company, NDC Health and Webtone Technologies.

• Lientz failed to list a single personally owned investment. Instead, he stated on his disclosure form that he held "various securities held by Bank of America investment advisors" and "various securities, public and private."

The state's financial disclosure form is designed to determine whether specific securities owned by an official constitute a conflict between public duties and private financial interests. Surely, a veteran banker would have known that.

The Lientz complaint brings up another question: After six months, why has there been no action on the allegations by the State Ethics Commission, whose budget is controlled by Lientz?

In case you haven't noticed, the ethics enforcement apparatus in state government has broken down. Accused officials apparently dispose of complaints by wadding them up and throwing them away - without any response. Hey, Mister State Attorney General Baker, can they do that and get away with it? Can anyone use the Lientz-Richardson method of dealing with bothersome ethics complaints, or is that method reserved for friends and members of the administration? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.

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