Majority black Tennessee town halts state takeover in settlement deal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After allegations that top Tennessee leaders exercised unfair control over the finances of a predominantly black city, the small town of Mason announced Wednesday that it had reached an agreement ending the threat of a takeover of its finances by the state.

The settlement marks a victory for city officials who had argued the state treated Mason’s majority black leaders differently than they did white administrators who are also struggling financially.

“This settlement agreement is a good thing for the citizens of the city and it’s a good thing for African Americans across the country,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said.

The trouble started when Comptroller Jason Mumpower asked Mason town leaders to relinquish their charter, pointing to years of financial mismanagement. After Mason voters refused to do so, Mumpower later said the state would take over his financial oversight.

News of the impending takeover quickly captured national attention, as many pointed out that Mason is located near the site of a future $5.6 billion Ford electric pickup plant, which is expected to employ around 5,600 factory workers, and the construction of the factory will create thousands of additional jobs.

The 2020 census shows Mason’s population at around 1,330. But that number fell to less than 800 after a private prison recently closed.

“For too long we’ve seen freeways running through our cities into our community, or a hostile takeover by states,” Johnson said. “Here is an opportunity for citizens to maintain their charter, implement best practices and participate in the opportunities that the economic development we bring to this community.

READ MORE: Judge refuses to stop Tennessee state takeover of majority-black city’s finances

City leaders quickly filed a lawsuit — with the help of the NAACP — in hopes of stopping the takeover, alleging the pending Ford plant prompted further scrutiny. In particular, the lawsuit sought to challenge the state’s edict that Mason would be granted permission to spend more than $100 — a strict requirement that city leaders say would make doing business impossible.

“They put Mason in check,” said attorney Van Turner Jr., president of the NAACP Memphis branch that represented Mason town leaders.

Last month, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin denied Mason’s initial request to temporarily halt the takeover while the lawsuit moved through the court, which Turner called a “death blow,” but said being able to keep the case alive and reach a settlement is a “big win.” »

Under the settlement, Mason officials will notify the state of any non-wage expenses over $1,000. Mason officials will also have to file monthly reports to the state, not weekly reports, as originally required. Notably, the deal will reduce the monthly payment Mason had made on what he owed his water and sewer funds from $10,000 to around $5,100.

The settlement, which was submitted to court on Wednesday, has yet to be approved by Martin.

“Mason’s agreement to a new corrective action plan is an important step in restoring the city’s financial health,” Mumpower said in a statement. “Most importantly, if Mason follows this plan, taxpayers can know that their leaders are good stewards of their money.”

According to the Comptroller’s Office, Mason has not submitted its annual audit on time since fiscal year 2001 and financial statements from 2004 to 2016 “were essentially unauditable.” Budget deficits increased from $126,659 in fiscal year 2016 to $481,620 in 2020.


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