Friday, March 24, 2017

Our Experts

Melissa Johnson

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. Melissa’s priorities include state and federal safety net programs, Unemployment Insurance, vocational rehabilitation programs, and child welfare programs.

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.

Wesley Tharpe

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. 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.

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.

Claire Suggs

Claire Suggs

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.

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.

Laura Harker

Laura Harker

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.

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.

Taifa Smith Butler

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 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.

Connect with GBPI


Former Staff

Tim Sweeney

Tim served as GBPI’s health care policy analyst from 2005 to 2016. Tim’s research focused on a wide variety of Georgia’s healthcare issues affecting Medicaid and PeachCare, as well as health insurance-related tax policy issues.

Tim holds a master’s in public affairs from the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and a bachelor’s in mathematics and political science from the University of Oregon.

Alan Essig

GBPI’s founding executive director, Alan led the organization until 2015. His wealth of experience includes serving as deputy policy director for the Georgia Governor’s Office, assistant commissioner for the Georgia Department of Human Resources and director of the Georgia State Senate Research Office.

Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master’s degree in public administration from the State University of New York at Albany.

Clare Richie

A former analyst with GBPI, Clare was responsible for analyzing budget and policy decisions related to poverty-reduction and social services.

Clare holds a master’s in public administration from Georgia State University and graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a bachelor’s in mathematical economics.