Staff and Board

Taifa Smith Butler, Executive Director

Taifa Smith Butler is executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, where she leads and inspires the GBPI team to accomplish the organization’s mission and vision to improve economic opportunity for all Georgians. She is a problem solver, tireless champion for equity, working families and investing early in children — Georgia’s greatest asset.

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 as deputy director in 2011, 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.

Taifa has served on various local, state and national committees and boards. She is member of Leadership Georgia Class of 2016 and is a Rockwood Leadership Institute Leading from the Inside Out Fellow, Class of 2017.

Taifa graduated from Mount Holyoke College and holds 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 can be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324.

GBPI Deputy Director Jennifer OwensJennifer Owens, Deputy Director

Jennifer Owens is the deputy director of GBPI, where she leads the organization’s external affairs and fund development, as well as the strategy and management of major projects and events. Jennifer’s experience includes 14 years of Georgia-based public policy advocacy and community outreach, stakeholder engagement, strategic communications and fundraising.

Prior to joining GBPI in 2013, Jennifer was development and policy advocacy director for Georgia Organics and former executive director of The League of Women Voters of Georgia.

Jennifer received The Georgia Conservancy’s Longleaf Award for Excellence in Environmental Advocacy in 2012. In 2007, she became one of the youngest recipients ever of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “40 Under 40,” a recognition the paper gives to professionals leading the metro area into the future.

Jennifer serves on the board of directors of Faith in Public Life, is an appointed member of the City of Brookhaven’s Affordable Housing Task Force and serves on the city of Brookhaven’s Zoning Rewrite Committee.

She is a graduate of the University of Georgia and is an active member of the university’s School of Public and International Affairs alumni group.

Jennifer can be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324.

GBPI Deputy Director of Communications John McCoshJohn McCosh, Deputy Director of Communications

John McCosh is the deputy director of communications for GBPI, where he 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 in 2012, John was public relations manager for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people get out of debt. 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.

He serves on the board of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and is an active member of the Atlanta Press Club. John is also a longstanding member of the Ansley Park Zoning and Land Use Committee.

John graduated from Georgia State University.

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

Wesley Tharpe, Research Director

Wesley Tharpe serves as Research Director at GBPI, where he is responsible for coordinating the organization’s team of policy analysts and ensuring all reports and analysis meet the highest standards. He also spearheads GBPI’s tax policy agenda and monitors long-term trends in state spending and revenues.

Wesley authored many reports since joining GBPI in 2011, including a blueprint for ways to improve Georgia’s tax system, a case for enacting a Georgia Earned Income Tax Credit, a detailed analysis of raising the minimum wage and an examination of ways foreign-born Georgians help boost the state’s economy and tax revenues. He speaks often with lawmakers, reporters and community groups.

Wesley serves on the board of The Center for Working Families and is a member of LEAD Atlanta’s Class of 2017. Prior to joining GBPI, he worked as a programs and communications manager for Realizing the Dream Inc., a small nonprofit committed to nonviolent conflict resolution.

A native of Fayetteville, Ga., Wesley graduated from the University of Georgia and holds a master’s in public policy from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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

Melissa Johnson, Senior Policy Analyst

Melissa Johnson is a senior policy analyst with GBPI, where she leads the organization’s research in economic mobility and human services. Her recent focus includes safety net services, women’s economic equality, affordable child care and workforce development.

Prior to joining GBPI in 2012, Melissa was a policy analyst at the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia and a management consultant for Deloitte Consulting.

Melissa graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and holds an MBA and a Juris Doctor from Emory University.

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

Claire Suggs, Senior Policy Analyst

Claire Suggs is a senior education policy analyst at GBPI, where 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 joining GBPI in 2012, 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 Corp. 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 graduated from the University of Michigan and holds a master’s in public affairs from LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Claire is pursuing a doctorate in education policy at the University of Georgia, College of Education.

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

Laura Harker, Health Policy Analyst

Laura Harker is a health policy analyst at GBPI where she is responsible for researching and reporting on Georgia’s health policies and related spending.

Prior to joining GBPI in 2016, 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 graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in public health policy from Emory University.

Laura can 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 GBPI, where she focuses on state policies that provide Georgians greater opportunity to complete a higher education credential across race, ethnicity and family income.

Prior to joining GBPI in 2017, she was 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 can be reached by email at or 404.420.1324×111. 

Jessica Hood

Jessica Hood, Operations Manager

Jessica Hood is operations manager at GBPI, where she manages an array of program and administrative duties, including event planning and human resource management.

Prior to joining the GBPI team in 2009, Jessica served as an aid for Georgia Sen. Gail Buckner and worked for the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C.

She graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

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

Eric StrunzEric Strunz, Outreach and Digital Communications Coordinator

Eric Strunz is outreach and digital communications coordinator at GBPI, where he supports community outreach efforts and manages digital platforms, including social media and the organization’s website. Prior to joining GBPI in 2015, 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.

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

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

Alex Welch, Communications Associate

Alex Welch serves as a communications associate at GBPI, where he is primarily responsible for the organization’s print and digital publishing, including its website, email and social media.

Prior to joining GBPI in 2017, he worked for the North Carolina and Georgia offices of the United States Tennis Association, where he served as the primary communications contact and supported state and regional marketing initiatives.  

He serves the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club as a writer and editor for their Sierran newsletter. A native of Woodstock, Ga., Alex graduated from Kennesaw State University.

Alex can be reached by email at or at 404.420.1324×112.

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