The ongoing conflict between the predominantly Black town of Mason, Tennessee, and the state’s comptroller has resulted in a lawsuit that has advanced to oral arguments recently heard in the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville. The town is requesting a temporary injunction that will allow them to regain control of its finances.
In March, Tennessee’s state comptroller, Jason Mumpower, announced the state would be taking over Mason’s finances, citing mismanagement of public funds. This decision was made after town officials refused to relinquish its town charter to the county — which is predominately white and Republican. Mason is predominately Black and Democrat. Mumpower, who is also white and Republican, decided to take over the town’s finances, citing late annual audits and a deficit of more than $300,000. Yet town officials argued that they have been managing its deficit, which they say arose as a result of mismanagement by previous town leadership.
Under Comptroller Mumpower’s control, Mason town officials would not have the right to make any purchases over $100. Through the Comptroller, Mason must pay more than $9,000 per month towards its debts to its utility fund, according to recent reports from Tennessee Lookout. These expenses would be paid before all other town expenditures, including payroll.
“We need a more reasonable payback option for the town’s debt,” Van Davis Turner Jr., one of Mason’s attorneys, told WATN Memphis. “One that won’t strain Mason’s finances, and that is corrective instead of punitive.”
Town officials are also wondering if this financial takeover is racially and economically charged — as a new Ford plant is being built just five miles away. Known as the Blue Oval City project, the development will represent an investment of $5.6 billion by Ford. Mason, which is 68 percent Black, would reap various financial benefits from the project. However, if the comptroller is in charge of the town’s finances officials could be constrained in their ability to control Mason’s economic development and growth.
However, the state Comptroller’s officer has argued that these claims of bias are “baseless” in a recent court filing.
“The Town’s baseless allegations that any act by the Comptroller has been motivated by the demographics of the Town’s government officials are inflammatory and merely distract from the Comptroller’s statutory purpose,” the Comptroller’s Office said in a recently released legal response.
Yet Mason town officials believe the Comptroller’s planned takeover is biased considering the actions they have consistently taken to regain financial footing. In addition, two predominantly white towns — Van Buren, which is 96 percent white and Jellico, which is 93 percent white — received more lenient takeovers despite greater deficits than those possessed by Mason, the city argues in its court filings.
Mason wrote in their lawsuit that the Comptroller’s Office’s planned oversight of expenditures is “incongruous” given the fact they’ve taken steps to improve their financial situation on their own.
State Chancellor Anne Martin presided over the proceedings. She told Mason’s attorneys any of their additional written arguments are due by April 11, while the state is scheduled to respond by April 12. Martin will issue a ruling by April 15.