Staff and Board

Taifa Smith Butler, Executive Director

Taifa Smith Butler joined GBPI in 2011 as the organization’s deputy director. She provides GBPI’s organizational vision, inspiration and strategic management. Taifa provides leadership and guidance to accomplish GBPI’s mission and vision to improve economic opportunity for all Georgians.

Taifa brings more than 20 years of experience in strategic communications, public policy research and data analysis in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. Prior to joining the GBPI team, she served as the policy and communications director for Georgia Family Connection Partnership where she co-managed the Georgia KIDS COUNT project and monitored public policy and its impact on children, families and communities. Additionally, Taifa has held various positions with the Georgia Academy for Children and Youth Professionals and MBIA Muni Services/Municipal Tax Bureau Company in Philadelphia.

Taifa was an education policy fellow with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Class of 2009 Education Policy Fellowship Program, and is a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development. Taifa holds a bachelor’s in politics and economics from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s in public management and policy from the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, with a concentration in economic development and financial management.

Taifa may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324.

JenniferJennifer Owens, Deputy Director

Jennifer joined the GBPI in March of 2013 to assist the organization with fund development to support and strengthen GBPI’s impact, and to conduct outreach to key policy influencers at the local and state levels. Jennifer has experience in policy research and advocacy, community organizing, strategic communication and grassroots mobilization, and fundraising.

Prior to GBPI, Jennifer served in development and policy advocacy roles for Georgia Organics, is a former director of The League of Women Voters of Georgia, and a program coordinator for The Clean Air Campaign. Jennifer has been honored as one of the youngest recipients to be awarded the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “40 Under 40” and a 2012 recipient of The Georgia Conservancy’s Longleaf Award for Excellence in Environmental Advocacy.

Jennifer may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324.

JohnJohn McCosh, Deputy Director of Communications

John McCosh joined GBPI in 2012 as director of communications.  John is responsible for the organization’s external communication, including media relations, social media and event coordination. He is GBPI’s primary media contact.

Prior to joining GBPI, John was public relations manager for CredAbility, a nonprofit credit counseling service. Past experience includes more than a decade at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as an editor and reporter covering business, as well as local and state government.

John graduated from Georgia State University.

John may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×109.

Wesley Tharpe, Research Director

Wesley Tharpe joined GBPI in 2011 as the tax and economic policy analyst. He tracks legislation filed in the General Assembly and compares Georgia’s practices to other states. He analyzes potential ways various tax and economic proposals could affect Georgia families and businesses. Wesley publishes reports on Georgia’s tax system and speaks often with lawmakers, advocates and the public about the state’s need for tax reform.

Wesley’s research identifies ways Georgia can boost economic growth and ensure prosperity is more widely shared. This work includes authoring GBPI’s annual State of Working Georgia publication, which is an economic snapshot of Georgia workers and families.

Prior to joining GBPI, Wesley served as a programs and communications manager for Realizing the Dream Inc., a small nonprofit working for poverty alleviation, youth development and nonviolent conflict resolution. A native of Fayetteville, Ga., he holds a master’s in public policy from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s in political science and international affairs from the University of Georgia.

Wes may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×110.

Melissa Johnson, Senior Policy Analyst

Melissa Johnson joined GBPI in 2012 as a policy analyst responsible for analyzing Georgia budget and policy decisions in the areas of poverty reduction, social services, and workforce supports.  Within these areas, Melissa’s priorities include state and federal safety net programs, Unemployment Insurance, vocational rehabilitation programs, and child welfare programs.

Prior to GBPI, Melissa worked in policy analysis and legal roles for the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia. In those roles, Melissa evaluated the effects of proposed and recently enacted legislation on Georgia judicial councils and commissions, in addition to executing special projects. Melissa’s previous career experience also includes work in affordable housing, community development, and tax policy.   Additionally, Melissa has worked within the private sector as a management consultant for Deloitte Consulting.

Melissa holds a Juris Doctor from Emory University in addition to a MBA and Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Melissa may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×100.

Claire Suggs, Senior Policy Analyst

Claire joined GBPI in 2012 as a senior education policy analyst. Her research focuses on education finance and school reform issues related to early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education in Georgia.

Prior to GBPI, Claire worked as a senior associate at Kronley & Associates, serving as an analyst on projects for foundations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. She supported initiatives on school district reform, teacher quality, youth development and more in this role. She also served as a member of the strategic planning team for the Arthur Blank Foundation and as a member of the program evaluation team for foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Claire holds a master’s in public affairs from LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s in English and History from the University of Michigan. Claire has begun work on her doctorate in education policy at the University of Georgia, College of Education.

Claire may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×105.

Laura Harker, Health Policy Analyst

Laura Harker joined GBPI in 2016 as a health policy analyst. She is responsible for researching and reporting on Georgia’s health policies and related spending.

Prior to GBPI, Laura conducted public health research, policy analysis, and advocacy on food insecurity and poverty issues as a fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C. She produced policy briefs and reports to provide evidence-based recommendations for state and national lawmakers. She worked with the Office of the Associate Director for Policy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a graduate student to conduct policy assessments and impact analysis in support of the National Prevention Strategy.

Laura holds a master’s degree in public health policy from Emory University and a bachelor’s degree in health policy and management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Laura may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×103.

GBPI Higher Education Policy Analyst Jennifer LeeJennifer Lee, Higher Education Policy Analyst

Jennifer Lee is higher education policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. She focuses on state policies that provide Georgians across race, ethnicity and family income greater opportunity to complete a higher education credential. Lee was previously the research associate and director of the Texas Kids Count Project at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas. She graduated from Wellesley College and holds a master’s in public affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Jennifer may be reached by email at or 404.420.1324×111.

Eric StrunzEric Strunz, Outreach and Digital Communications Coordinator

Eric joined GBPI in 2015 as outreach and digital communications coordinator. He supports community outreach efforts and manages digital platforms, including social media and the GBPI website. Prior to joining GBPI, Eric was a decision support analyst for Children Without Worms, a public health nonprofit that helps children in more than 100 countries lead healthier lives. He leveraged digital tools for knowledge management and supported the creation of a global coalition that aims to eliminate intestinal worm infections.

Eric holds a master’s in public health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and bachelor’s degrees in history and telecommunications from the University of Florida.

Eric may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×106.

Jessica HoodJessica Hood, Operations Manager

Jessica joined GBPI in 2009. She currently serves as the organization’s operations manager, where she manages an array of program and administrative work. Prior to joining the GBPI team, Jessica served as an aid for Georgia Senator Gail Buckner and worked for the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C. She holds a bachelor’s in political science from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. Jessica is originally from Alpharetta.

Jessica may be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×104.

GBPI Board of Directors

Eliot Robinson, Board Chair
Partner | Bryan Cave LLP

Kathy Ashe, Board Vice Chair
Former State Legislator

Russell Hinton, Board Treasurer
Retired | State Auditor, State of Georgia

Patricia Harris, Board Secretary
Harris Consulting

Odessa Archibald
Community Development Manager | Georgia Power

Ken Boler
General Manager | Albany Herald SCNI Newspapers

Thomas Boller
Partner | Stateside Investment Partners

Ann Duffy
Senior Consultant | Education First

Steven Fox
EVP, Chief Legal Officer | GreenSky LLC

Lois Frank
National Board of Directors | Mazon

J. Mac Holladay
CEO | Market Street

Charles Johnson
Partner | Holland & Knight LLP

James McCoy
President and CEO | Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce

Ann Rosewater

Jim Stokes
President | Sustainable Solutions Georgia

Manoj S. “Sachin” Varghese
Attorney | Bondurant Mixson and Elmore