Former federally appointed "Special Master" Chuck Fisher has some advice for whoever Judge Hardy Mays appoints to lord over the merging of City and County schools: Be on the same page.
"If you had told me a year ago the jail was gonna be accredited in their healthcare. I don't think that would have passed the laugh test with anybody."
He was among those credited with helping to pull off a miracle transformation. It had taken years, but federally appointed "Special Master", Charles "Chuck" Fisher, had fostered the change of the Shelby County Jail, once assailed by the U.S. Justice Department as "one of the worst jails in the country", into formal accreditation by 2004. Tapped for the job by federal judge John McCalla, the former Tennessee Corrections Institute investigator, told me by phone from his home in Covington he knew the parameters of his assignment from the beginning.
"The jail was ordered to do certain things. And they had to come up with a plan and they submitted a plan to the court which the court accepted...and of course, I helped write the plan," says Fisher.
Memphis defense attorney Robert Hutton, who represented the inmates that charged their civil rights were being violated by the terrible conditions inside the jail, says Fisher's expertise made him the perfect choice for the Special Master role.
"Worked for the Tennessee Corrections Institute, he wrote the standards that regulate jails. He had inspected the Shelby County jail. So, he knew a lot about it. He knew what to do. He knew how to talk to the officers on the inside. He knew how to talk to inmates," says Hutton.
Fisher adds, "The biggest problem we had was making sure everybody was on the same page. It is a huge organization and communication is always a problem."
In acknowledging federal judge Samuel Mays has the right to appoint a special master to follow the progress of the school merger, Hutton says once a choice is made his duties will be specifically spelled out, "Whatever the court's vision of a Master to do will be set forth in an order. Then you can have Masters that are geared toward an enforcement of an order or Masters that are geared to making findings to recommend a disposition to it."
While Fisher had to deal with a number of huge issues that eventually led to cleaning up the jail's problems, he says a Master's greatest asset is his ability to communicate and get others to do the same to make a common goal achievable.
"To be open and honest about the process. Don't keep any secrets. If you see a problem, don't wait and run to the judge. But, work it out and see if you can fix it before it becomes an even bigger problem. Or just eliminate it as a problem."