On Monday his message was short and sweet. Federal Judge Samuel Hardy Mays felt it was time to play the trump card he'd had in his deck for two years in order to put the Shelby County Unified School Board back on schedule for the opening of the 2013 school year.
"It was his idea apparently as they walked in today there would be a Special Master appointed and he wants names by Wednesday...and possible functions of things to do," explains Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz.
But, wait! With just four months remaining before the court mandated July 1 completion date and major decisions from teacher employment, to school maintenance, to school closings and the choice of a system Superintendent still in the air, won't it take no less than a "superhero" to step in and take command?
Noted Memphis mediation attorney, Hayden Lait, says depending upon what Judge Mays sets down as parameters for the job, no heavy lifting should be required. But, the qualifications to successfully pull it off will require a variety of administrative and communicative skills.
Lait elaborates, "Judge Mays wants someone that has subject matter expertise, in other words, background in education or finance or just someone who has people expertise and can handle the personalities involved, and is a quick learner. Because I'm sure all the parties involved will educate this Special Master on the issues as they move forward.
While there will be plenty of work to be done over four intense months, the Special Master position, to be funded by parties participating in the current school merger lawsuit, could extend well after the school year is underway. Case in point, federal judge, John McCalla appointed Chuck Fisher as a Special Master in the years long lawsuit over jail overcrowding. Fisher uncovered truths concerning gladiator fights among inmates and jail employees receiving an inordinate amount of overtime pay. He proved to be the "eyes and ears" McCalla needed to demand for vast improvements in jail conditions. While we still await Judge Mays eventual choice, there is already conjecture about the type of appointee he could be looking at.
There are men who could bring instant stature to the post, among them former District Attorney Mike Cody and retired Circuit Court Judge and mediator George Brown. Higher education proponent Methodist Healthcare Systems executive Cato Johnson or respected West Tennessee U.S. Attorney Hickman Ewing are also candidates. All bring broad experience and proven track records for successfully working with others.
"A Special Master, again, may have to make certain findings and report back to the court and in doing that they would want to have an open mind and listen to all sides," adds Lait.