There are those that would argue when faced with a humongous task "the little things aren't worth sweatin' over." But, with the specter of an inaugural meeting with newly appointed Special Master to the school merger, Rick Masson, looming for Thursday night's Unified School Board meeting, the board's Internal Operations Ad Hoc Committee dutifully plodded along on formulating policy language for on-line courses and raising the number of foreign exchange students. Though not surprisingly absent at Wednesday's gathering, the anxiety level about Masson's role added to an unstable mix is already building among board members.
"I don't know whether it'll make things move any faster. Unless that's what Mr. Masson determines needs to be done. It sounds like he's gonna have pretty free reign from what the judge has had to say," says board member Dr. Snowden Carruthers.
Board member Kevin Woods adds, "I think we've proven over the last couple weeks that we're prepared to make those tough decisions and to have someone that you can go to quickly when you can't get to that point. I think it's a good thing."
Yet, most city and county leaders continue to praise federal judge Samuel Hardy Mays appointment of a man who has been described in the past in such laudatory tones as "administrative wizard", "financial maven" and "agent of change."
"He's great in finance. He's great in management and he has excellent human relations skills. He was my liaison with the Memphis City Council and you know how divided the Council can be," lauds former Memphis Mayor Dr. Willie Herenton.
City Council Attorney Alan Wade has nothing but praise for Masson as well, "Rick is good. He's skillful at trying to reach consensus, if that can be done. But, if that can't be done the court has said, ‘Look, time is of the essence.'"
It's making the most of the time he spends that's made the former City Chief Administrative Officer a sought after "go-to-guy" in times of City Hall crises. It's his pragmatic problem solving approach which is often devoid of emotional attachment. In 1996, then CAO Masson played financial hardball in refusing to let the city build a new baseball stadium against threats by Memphis Chicks owner David Hirsch to move the team out town.
"I don't think anyone in this community appreciates being threatened with some type of ultimatum," said Masson at the time.
Masson was interim MLGW President in the wake of the forced resignations of scandal-ridden Joseph Lee and General Counsel Odell Horton Jr. in 2007. Masson was credited with convincing a stubborn Herenton to accept Lee's resignation and then set about cleaning up the utilities tainted public image.
"What I know about the people in this city is that they want people to succeed. They want this organization to be the best utility in the country," said Masson in 2007.
Masson last rode to rescue as a paid special advisor to Mayor A C Wharton during an investigation of corruption in the city's General Services Department. The division is still using his "Road Map to Recovery" report. Yet, Masson's services are usually paid for, in this case, Mays' decree calls for the sum of 250 dollars a week, plus expenses.
"I think we get about 100 bucks every two weeks. So, we put in a lot of hours. So, he's gonna do well. But, we're gonna make sure he earn his money," says Woods.
It's the kind of financial reward you get, when you're the one placed in charge to make sure everybody "sweats the big stuff."
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