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Mark Brown: Mayor’s caginess on Brizard irritating

Mayor Rahm Emanuel CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answer reporter's questions after they toured BenjamE. Mays elementary school 838 W. Marquette

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answer reporter's questions after they toured Benjamin E. Mays elementary school, 838 W. Marquette Rd., as it started the full school day, giving its students additional hours of instruction time. File Ph

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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:40AM

Let’s put this right on the table: when you’re stuck paying an employee more than an extra year’s pay for him to just go away barely 18 months after he was hired, then somebody made a mistake.

If that employee runs your organization, then it indicates a fairly substantial mistake — either by the employee or the person doing the hiring or more likely both.

And that’s why news reporters found it more than a little frustrating when they couldn’t get a straight answer out of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday about why he had found it necessary to remove Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

To hear Emanuel tell it, Brizard did fabulous work during his short period on the job, but the mayor felt now with the start of a new teachers contract was the natural “opportunity” to bring in somebody else who could “take us to the next level.”

I wasn’t the only reporter who found this vaguely reminiscent of the famous line from Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf explaining why he had fired coach Doug Collins in favor of Phil Jackson after Collins had taken the team to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Collins had done a great job of getting the Bulls from Point A to Point B, Reinsdorf explained, but wasn’t the right guy to get them from Point B to Point C.

One big difference, of course, is that Collins was very popular and fans demanded an answer for his ouster while I don’t think a soul in Chicago much cared one way or another whether Brizard stayed or went. He hadn’t created much of a constituency for himself, certainly not many who will shed a tear.

While we all are hopeful Emanuel’s replacement pick of Barbara Byrd-Bennett to run CPS works out as well as Reinsdorf’s selection of Jackson (B3, as the mayor calls her, made a strong first impression), it was more than a little convenient for the mayor to gloss over the fact something went wrong with his first choice, causing Brizard to become what Emanuel called a “distraction from the mission.”

We can all understand Emanuel not wanting to rub Brizard’s nose in his mistakes or to hurt his reputation any more than necessary. But by failing to acknowledge Brizard’s shortcomings on the job, or at least specify any points of disagreement that led to their “mutual agreement,” Emanuel avoided admitting any failure of his own in selecting him.

As we took our seats Friday in the library at South Loop Elementary School for the official introduction of Byrd-Bennett, I still had a fairly strong recollection of sitting in a slightly larger library at Kelly High School in April 2011 when a newly elected but not yet sworn-in Emanuel introduced us to Brizard.

It wasn’t the Haitian-born Brizard’s lilting Caribbean accent that made such an impression that day, nor the fact he was a head taller than his new boss and certainly not his Rochester credentials, although all were duly noted.

What really registered was that when reporters asked Brizard his first real question, Emanuel nudged him out of the way and stepped to the microphone to answer instead.

Emanuel sent a message that day. Brizard might be the schools CEO, but he, Rahm Emanuel, would be calling the shots on education.

It would be Emanuel’s vision of school reform that Brizard would be carrying out. Heck, Emanuel had already picked many of Brizard’s most important staff members for him.

Brizard wouldn’t have the luxury of assembling his own team. He would be playing on Emanuel’s team.

Notably, Emanuel did not do anything similar to put Byrd-Bennett in her place during Friday’s news conference. He treated her like the person to whom he has entrusted the running of the schools.

There’s something to be said for a mayor who steps up to take personal responsibility for public education the way Emanuel has. I give him credit for that.

Having made himself the lightning rod for both teacher and public discontent during the CTU strike, however, Emanuel now has a strong need to reboot his relationship with the union and other education stakeholders as he next faces the equally nettlesome task of school consolidation.

The easiest way to do that was with a fresh face who wasn’t stuck with the baggage from the strike or from last year’s round of school closings.

For B3, it will be a rough road to Step C.

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