published Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Neal resigning to take Georgia corrections post

Longtime Georgia House Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, is stepping down from his seat to take an appointment by Gov. Nathan Deal to a state Department of Corrections post.

"It's a lot of mixed emotions today," Neal said Friday. "I've had an incredible experience and had wonderful people to work with."

Neal, who has represented Walker and Catoosa counties in the state House since 2004, will replace Braxton Cotton, who is leaving to serve as a member of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Neal will serve as executive director of the Governor's Office of Transition, Support and Re-entry. His appointment takes effect Nov. 15.

"We'll be working with parole and probation and the Department of Corrections and the community providers who are working to facilitate re-entry," Neal said.

Now he'll be on the receiving end of lawmakers' moves in the General Assembly.

"It's very exciting now to be on the implementation side of some of the policy I've been working with," Neal said.

Deal said the North Georgia legislator can make a positive difference in the lives of convicts.

Neal brings experience as an advocate for "more humane, more cost-effective and more effective ways to run our state's criminal justice system," Deal said in an email. "As a House member, he worked hand in hand with me to pass significant reforms in both our adult and juvenile justice systems.

"Jay also has professional experience working in a drug treatment facility," Deal said. "We know that mental illness and addictions are the root causes of much crime, and by tackling those issues we can actually prevent crime and recidivism."

Neal will be instrumental in helping convicts make the transition to the working world, according to the governor.

"Jay has the right experience for this job, but he also has the heart for it," he said.

The House vacancy created by Neal's exit sets the stage for a special election. The website Peach Pundit reports that LaFayette, Ga., Mayor Neal Florence, who is stepping down from city politics, is looking at a possible run for the vacant post. Florence held the mayor's seat in LaFayette for more than 20 years, the site states.

Deal also appointed Robert E. Keller, now a member of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, to join Renee Snead as an additional deputy director of the Office of Transition, Support and Re-entry.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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