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Maverick Mayors

UTA alumni are leading three vibrant and diverse Texas cities

By Kathryn Hopper
Photography by Glen E. Ellman

Three texas cities, three mayors, three Mavericks. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price ’72, Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen ’73, and Frisco Mayor Maher Maso ’08 each took different paths to The University of Texas at Arlington, but they all found success in the business world and now hold their city hall’s highest office. They also share a similar passion to make their communities better for all residents, present and future.

Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen, '73

Mayor Ron Jensen was elected to the Grand Prairie City Council in 2002 and elected mayor in 2013.

Ron Jensen is a natural storyteller. Asked how he came to be mayor, he sits back in his chair and starts the tale he calls “my one night at Baylor.”

It was 1971. Jensen had completed his sophomore year at UTA, where he was juggling his studies with a job as a machinist at Rayco Construction.

“My father, who was a Baptist minister, told me, ‘we’ve got enough money to send you to Baylor,’ so I was set to transfer,” Jensen says.

Then in July, Jensen’s best friend introduced him to his sister, Rebecca Hyde, and they soon started dating. When September rolled around and Jensen moved into his dorm in Waco, he had second thoughts.

“I knew if I stayed at Baylor I could lose her,” he says. “I moved back the next day. That was my one night at Baylor.”

As luck or fate would have it, he was able to make late registration at UTA and got his old job back. He and Rebecca married in December, and they had their first child the following year when Jensen also completed his degree in psychology.

After graduation, he went to work for Control Products Corp., a Grand Prairie producer of aircraft lighting parts. There, his boss, Wayne Hanks, encouraged him to get involved in the community.

Jensen joined and took leadership roles in the YMCA, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and other civic groups. In 2002, he was elected to the City Council, serving alongside longtime Mayor Charles England. When England decided not to run for re-election in 2013, Jensen, then mayor pro-tem, ran and won.

“As they say, the rest is history,” says Jensen, who achieved his lifelong dream of purchasing Control Products and now serves as president and CEO.

Now, the father of three and grandfather of three can reflect and see how the lessons he learned in college continue to pay off.

“At UTA, back when I was young and married and working, I learned to organize, to balance things, and to keep things prioritized,” he says. “I learned to focus on what has to be done first and maybe what I’d like to do last.”

As mayor, Jensen’s priorities have included boosting economic development, lowering crime, and improving transportation in Grand Prairie, which has grown from 127,000 in 2000 to more than 182,000 this year. If trends continue, the population could reach 217,000 by 2020.

He also worked to increase tourism and recreational opportunities, including construction of The Epic, a $75 million water park under construction in Central Park west of State Highway 161. To improve community engagement, Jensen launched monthly five-mile bike rides called Cyclin’ with the Mayor and two-mile walks called Strollin’ with the Mayor as part of the Get Fit GP community initiative.

In a bid to unite the city’s diverse communities, Jensen started the Mayor’s Community Table, which allows attendees to mix with fellow residents from different neighborhoods, backgrounds, ethnic groups, and races.

“I’m doing it so people can get to know each other,” he says. “Once you get to know people who are from different races or different backgrounds, they’re no longer strangers. They’re not ‘those people.’ ”

He adds that two topics are off-limits: politics and religion.

“When you talk about those you get emotional. It’s just divisive. I can’t change your mind on religion, and it’s pretty hard to change your mind on politics, so why try? Let’s just talk.”

Asked about his legacy, he says it’s simple. When he leaves office, he wants Grand Prairie residents to feel better about working, living, and playing there than when he got elected.

“That’s why I do this, things like the bike rides, talking to every group I can. Community involvement is what gives people that feeling. We can build roads and have great fire and police, good restaurants. Those are superficial things we need to enjoy in the city, but it’s not what I want my legacy to be. I want us to get along, have a good time, and be proud of the city.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, '72

For Betsy Price, the key to being a successful mayor comes down to two things: passion and people.

“It takes a true commitment to your city because it’s an all-consuming job if you let it be,” she says. “And you better darn sure be a people person. You’ve got to really like people to do this job.”

Price, a mother of three who has been married for more than 40 years to husband Tom, ran a successful title service and was active in school and civic groups before she entered politics. In 2000, she was elected Tarrant County tax assessor and after a decade on the job, she won the non-partisan election for mayor in 2011. Two years later, she was unopposed in her bid for a second term.

Mayor Betsy Price was elected tax assessor for Tarrant County in 2000 and won the Fort Worth mayor’s race in 2011.

Since taking office, Price has embraced the city’s iconic Western heritage while working to promote job growth, strengthen education, fight crime, and improve mobility. She’s also focused on making Fort Worth a healthy, engaged, and fiscally responsible city. Price, an avid cyclist, launched “rolling town hall meetings” where she invites fellow citizens to bike alongside her and discuss issues ranging from potholes to trash pickup to the city’s budget and departments. At the end of the ride, she continues the conversations at a restaurant, food truck park, or community center. For those not interested in cycling, she also holds “walking town hall meetings,” “caffeinated town hall meetings,” and even “Twitter town hall meetings.”

Price also actively promotes FitWorth, an initiative to encourage healthy living, and launched the Tour de Fort Worth, a scaled-down Texas version of the Tour de France.

Growing up, she never thought she’d enter politics. She came to UTA with dreams of being a veterinarian and majored in biology. Volunteer and leadership opportunities played a big part in her personal development, including serving as president of Delta Delta Delta sorority. She also broadened her coursework with classes in business and English and fondly remembers Allan Saxe’s government class.

“He was a screaming liberal when I had him and I just loved him, but we would harass him about being far too liberal,” she says. “Now he’s very conservative, so we have these major conversations about the switch from one to the other.”

When she comes back to campus, she encourages students to connect with their professors and develop mentoring relationships. “Too many kids don’t see their professors. They don’t visit with them, so they miss that opportunity to pick someone else’s brain.”

As mayor, Price engages young people in developing public policy. Her charge to involve citizens under 40 led to the formation of SteerFW, an organization that has grown to more than 300 residents who work to tackle some of the biggest problems while focusing on civic engagement.

She also has reached out to the city’s youngest residents, engaging school-aged children in her quest to improve overall wellness by eating healthier and opting for more active pursuits than sitting on the sofa for screen time. So far, 25,000 children have completed the challenge, with 3,400 going from being obese to a healthy weight.

Price says she’s not trying to dictate a healthy lifestyle, just working to make it easier to exercise healthy choices. She believes those decisions can have huge results that improve not just the quality of life, but also the economic health and sustainability of the entire community.

“It’s old-fashioned, but it goes back to engagement,” she says. “It goes back to a better educated and healthier workforce, which for us goes back to economic development.”

Price’s efforts to promote Fort Worth and its residents paid off earlier this year when the city attracted the coveted Facebook Data Center, beating out 200 cities vying for the facility that will bring an estimated $1 billion in economic development to north Fort Worth near Alliance Airport and the Texas Motor Speedway.

“All the studies we saw showed if we landed it, it would be a big draw for other companies and for young people, too,” she says. “They’d say if Facebook likes Fort Worth, there’s something cool going on there that I want to be a part of. It’s a big deal.”

Frisco Mayor Maher Maso, '08

Maher Maso believes being a mayor isn’t that different from being a chief executive officer.

“The good leadership skills are the same, and those include servant leadership, especially in our role as volunteers,” he says. “There are positional leaders and servant leaders, and I certainly believe in servant leadership, practicing good listening skills and being able to get input from many different sources.”

Mayor Maher Maso was elected to the Frisco City Council in 2000 and was the city’s longest serving mayor pro-tem before becoming mayor in 2008.

To encourage engagement, he launched “Coffee with the Mayor,” a monthly forum for citizens to air concerns over a cup of joe. Those personal interactions have helped the three-term mayor connect with constituents in the fast-growing city of more than 150,000 as it approaches build-out (it’s only about 60 percent of the way there). The city’s economy continues to thrive thanks to multi-use developments in the works—dubbed “the $5 Billion Mile”—along the city’s stretch of the Dallas North Tollway

“Frisco is the most successful city in the country, and a lot of that has to do with great staff people who love what they do,” he says. “Surrounding yourself with people who have passion for their jobs makes being a leader much easier.”

In addition to his mayoral duties, Maso serves on the board of directors and is vice president of the retail services firm Maso Inc. and the investment firm CMTEX Corp. The married father of three was first elected to public office in 2000 when he joined the Frisco City Council and was re-elected in 2002 and 2004. He was the city’s longest serving mayor pro-tem, appointed by his colleagues five times from 2003 to 2007.

Frisco was still a small farming community of 6,500 when Maso bought a home in one of the first subdivisions in 1992. He ran afoul of the community’s covenants when he wanted to add a circular driveway and resolved the issue by becoming president of the Homeowner’s Association. From there, he became the neighborhood’s go-to guy to resolve issues with the city.

“People started asking for my help. Gradually, I was interacting more and more with the city and the more I did, the more I enjoyed it,” he says. “It progressed to the point that people were telling me I should run for city council. It was not something I asked for. Some people have the goal to be elected, but it was never my goal. It was just a byproduct of engagement in the community.”

Elected mayor in 2008, Maso has helped Frisco position itself as a sports mecca, becoming the corporate home of the Dallas Cowboys and a new 12,000-seat multi-use practice stadium and outdoor fields complex. The city’s roster of teams also includes the corporate home of the Dallas Stars professional hockey team; the Texas Rangers Double-A affiliate baseball team, the Frisco Roughriders; the FC Dallas professional soccer team; and the Dallas Mavericks' professional development basketball team, the Texas Legends. Frisco also recently landed the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

With the hotel inventory set to double over the next three to four years, taxes from the growing number of tourists can boost city coffers, supplementing sales and property taxes.

“We will build out one day and revenue will slightly flatten, and the challenge is to make sure the city stays fresh and runs state of the art,” he says.

Maso grew up the youngest of eight to Jordanian immigrants. His parents stressed education and worked two jobs to help put their children through college. He followed his siblings in seeking higher education, but got a devastating diagnosis of cancer at age 20.

“There were a few years of battle,” he says. “It changed my life for the better, and I’m glad it happened to me. Who knows where I could have ended up without it?”

He eventually completed his undergraduate degree online and went on to earn an MBA at UTA while serving on the City Council. “I looked for a program that was highly rated and that fit my schedule, and that I knew I could expand on later.”

Maso is eager to continue his education, perhaps enrolling in the University’s new internationally focused business Ph.D. program. As for other plans, he says he doesn’t have loftier political aspirations.

“I love being the mayor of Frisco,” he says. “I tell people I’ve already achieved the top job. I can’t think of any other higher position I can be in.”