Ricci Mason is a candidate for the chair of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners (BOC).
He is one of two Republican candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Chairman Mike Boyce to face Democratic challenger Lisa Cupid in the November general election.
The Courier had a phone conversation with Mason, and began by asking him to tell a little about his background.
“I was a born and raised in Pittsburgh I moved down here back in 87 with my wife and child,” he said.
“I ended up the Naval Air Station over off Windy Hill Road and became a recruiter,” Mason said. “And that’s where I ended my career in the Marine Corps and decided to stay in Marietta because it was such a beautiful place, and the economy is so great here.”
He said he began his career in law enforcement with the Cobb County Department of Corrections, a former department that at one time ran a prison work camp.
While working at the work camp he got his formal education at the Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, he said.
The work camp began as a prison farm, with crops and lifestock, but by the time he joined the department, he said, the prisoners worked on road crews.
Mason said he worked there from 1988 to 1997.
“I left there and went to the Marietta PD,” he said. “I worked for Marietta PD from 1997 to 2004, then I came back to the county (police department),” he said.
“Just to back up a little bit, when I was growing up, my mother was a single mother of three boys and she had a trucking brokerage company,” he said. “I worked there from the age of 14.”
“My mom instilled that work ethic in me my brothers at a very young age,” he said.
Mason said his duties in his mother’s company included taking calls, working accounts receivable and payable and dispatching trucks.
He said the experience of working in a successful family business taught him a sense of fiscal responsibility.
Why Mason is running for office
Asked why he is running for office, Mason said that he had not known his father growing up, but after his death he found our from one of his half sisters that his father had been a mayor.
“She said I have personality just like him,” Mason said.
“It’s not even necessarily a political side of it,” he said. “I have a motto that says ‘Citizen, Not Politician.”
“I realized in my career that there’s a lot of service in politics and aside from being politician,” he said. “And service is where my heart is, I have a heart for service and I want to serve the people of Cobb County the best way I can.”
The Courier asked Mason what his position is on the county’s transportation needs.
“I rode motorcycle for the police department for the last 14 years,” Mason said. “I could tell you where there’s a lot of potholes. I can tell you where the roads are dilapidated from the large trucks that come through this county.”
“Even on the side roads, they’re crumbling,” he said. “There’s a lot of potholes out there.”
“I can tell you the ones I hit, the ones I missed, the ones that almost almost took me down.” he said. “And it’s really not a laughing matter, but the infrastructure … is so intertwined in transportation as a whole.
“And if you remember, back during ’93, ’94, ’95 building up to the Olympics, the roads in Cobb County were pristine. That because we were getting the Olympics,” he said. “I think that was the last major overhaul that our infrastructure has had.”
Mason said the damage the weight of trucks and buses do to the roads makes maintenance a priority.
“I understand the next SPLOST is going to be a maintenance SPLOST for the stuff like this and that needs to be done,” he said.
Mason then turned to public transit.
“CobbLinc has the big buses and they have the small buses,” he said. “To be quite frank with you, there’s a lot of big buses with few people on it.”
He said he thinks the routes on the CobbLinc system need to be reevaluated.
“Not to say that we need to dissolve CobbLinc. We need to reevaluate how the routes go, maybe change the stature of the buses, maybe utilize it a little bit better.”
Mason was asked his position on the reopening of the controversial Sterigenics facility near Atlanta Road on the outskirts of Smyrna.
The Sterigenics plant became a focus of community concern in Smyrna and surrounding areas after an article jointly published by Georgia Health News and WebMD reported that three census tracts, two in the Smyrna area and one in Covington, had unacceptable levels of cancer risk by EPA standards, due to elevated amounts of ethylene oxide in the air.
During a period of voluntary shutdown for the testing of new equipment intended to address the emissions safety concerns, the county ordered Sterigenics to stay closed for review of its certificate of occupancy and fire protection standards.
Pressure from the FDA caused the county to allow the facility to reopen on a limited basis, and a federal court expanded that to give Sterigenics the full ability to operate their plant pending a final legal decision.
[Correction and editor’s note: A representative of Sterigenics contacted the Courier asking that the “county shut the facility down” in the line above from the original version of this article be corrected. They are correct, and the line has been corrected above. The facility had already been shut down for voluntary testing of new equipment. The county then ordered them to continue the shutdown. Read a more complete account here.]
The FDA contended the plant was needed to sterilize Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mason said, “The chairman opened it back up and he said it would have been opened up by the feds if he hadn’t done it.”
“When you release carcinogenic material into the atmosphere, and you do it knowingly, there’s a liability that holds,” he said. “The people down there and around that plant didn’t ask for that.”
“So I made a statement before and I’ll stick to it, that the state and the federal EPA should get involved in the monitoring,” he said.
He said that when he was a Cobb motorcycle policeman there was talk within the department of a plan to evacuate the area.
“When you when you go to that degree, I think that you really need to reconsider your decisions,” he said.
The Courier asked Mason his views on public safety.
“I love public safety, I love law enforcement, I love the fire side,” he said. “I worked with the deputies throughout my career. I was actually on the SWAT team at the sheriff’s office at one point.”
He said he viewed public safety as one of the three cornerstones of the county, along with infrastructure and the water department.
“One of the biggest problems we’re having right now is retention,” he said. “We’ve had retention problems for the last few years and there’s multiple different reasons why, and I’ll give you a couple of them.”
“If you look back, back in October, November, they approved the 7 percent raise for public safety across the board, 4 percent across the county and another 3 percent for public safety,” he said.
“With that being said, public safety’s hadn’t had a raise in 10 years before that. You’re way behind the eight ball. You have Atlanta PD get a 30 percent raise in one paycheck,” he said. “You get all these surrounding agencies. You have these municipalities, Brookhaven, Johns Creek.”
“Brookhaven is probably one of the biggest recruiters of people from Cobb County,” he said.
“Now keep in mind, Cobb County has a very, very stable, public safety department,” Mason said.
“We have our own Academy. We teach our own recruits. We have extensive recruit training throughout our academy,” he said. “It’s a military-style training, extensive training with very good instructors.”
“We have one instructor that comes to mind. His name’s Bob Franklin. He’s an incredible instructor and that’s the type of person that teaches these young kids when they come to the police department,” Mason said.
He said that once recruits get to a certain phase in their training, the surrounding metro police departments recruit them.
He said pay and benefits were the reason Cobb police were leaving.
Mason spoke favorably of a program within the department allowing officers to take their police vehicles home, but said there was a saying within the department, “You can’t feed your family with a police car.”
“I think we’re up to like 100 officers short in the police department.”
He outlined the direct effect of the shortage of officers on policing in the community.
He said that the figure of 600 officers includes not only patrol officers, but detectives, precinct supervisors, SWAT officers, DUI task force and fatality investigators.
Mason said that precincts were supposed to operate with ten beat officers.
“I looked at a chart not too long ago that they were running a 10-beat precinct with six officers,” he said.
“So keep this in mind. You got six officers working at one precinct. You get some major catastrophe, it’s going to take the majority of those officers to work it, or you get some type of natural disaster and you’re going to get all those guys that are going to be dispatched to it,” Mason said.
He said that diminishes the speed with which officers can respond to 911 calls.
“All the commissioners say the public safety is a priority, but as an officer who worked the beat, it was discouraging because we never saw anybody treat public safety as a priority,” he said.
“It’s time to step up to the plate and treat public safety as priority because that’s your number one defense and the public’s number one defense on the street,” Mason said. “Who do you call in the middle of the night when you hear a noise in your basement? Who’s going in there and risking their life not knowing what’s going on there for substandard pay?”
The Courier asked Mason if he had any closing thoughts he’d like to tell the voters of Cobb County.
“I have 33 years of service in this county between the Cobb and Marietta police,” he said.
“There are people that have addressed me and say, ‘Oh, you’re just going to deal with public safety here’,” Mason said. “Well, yes, I’m going to deal with it.”
“It’s even more critical that we have more people on the streets. The young men and young women deserve to feed their families and not be worried about doing second jobs to feed their family,” Mason said. “So safety is going to be a big thing, because that’s your cornerstone.”
“But I think I have a servant’s heart, and a lot of people will agree with me that my heart is about service to the people, about listening to people, about delivering to the people.”
“My slogan is ‘Citizen, not Politician’. I want people to reach out to me,” he said.
“My sister told me that that my dad used to go out as the mayor, in the middle of the night, when the plow trucks were working the roads in falling snow, and he’d ride with those those workers all night long. Just sit there and keep them company.”
“That’s me,” Mason said. “I want to be out there amongst the people, talking to the people, feeling their hearts, feeling their pain, and working with them trying to resolve issues in this county.”
“And that’s where I think that I can stand above and beyond others,” he said. “I could always surround myself, as our great president does, with knowledgeable people in their fields, and we can get things done in this county.”
“We can research things we don’t need. We don’t need a $300,000 pay study. Realize that officers need your money. I’ve had four of those in my career and we never got a pay raise on a $300,000 study. That’s a waste of money. Fiscally, that’s terrible.”
“There’s a lot of money being wasted. That’s what I want to cut. There’s a lot of projects in this county that have been done. They’re frivolous. That kind of stuff needs to be cut. We need to be fiscally responsible to the citizens of this county. Let them know that there’s somebody out there that really cares about how they feel and how safe they feel.”
For more information on Ricci Mason’s campaign for BOCchair, visit his campaign website https://ricci4cobb.com/