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Tennessee Court Rules State Comptroller’s Financial Takeover of Predominantly Black Town of Mason Is a Go

A Tennessee judge ruled not to halt the state comptroller’s financial takeover of Mason, a predominantly Black town whose economic viability has been under scrutiny. Mason officials had filed a lawsuit to stop what they deemed a hostile takeover.

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Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-a-gavel-6077422/

In March, comptroller Jason Mumpower announced that his office would be taking over Mason, citing years of financial mismanagement. The decision was made after officials would not relinquish the town’s charter to Tipton County, which is predominately white and Republican. Under a state financial takeover, town officials would not be able to handle any expenditures exceeding $100. At the same time, Ford Motor Co. announced its Blue Oval City project just five miles from the town. The project is slated to cost $5.6 billion and bring jobs and economic development to the region.  

Mason town officials argued that Mumpower’s decision was racially charged, as two predominantly white towns — Van Buren, which is 96 percent white, and Jellico, which is 93 percent white — posseased worse financial woes and did not receive comparable takeover stipulations. In addition, town officials argued that Mumpower’s office would not take into consideration the hard work the town has taken to stabilize its finances. 

Nashville chancellor Anne Martin decided not to halt the state’s financial takeover, arguing that Mason’s attorneys were unable to support Mason town officials’ claims that the state’s decision was based on racial discrimination. 

“The allegations are significant and raise serious concerns about the Comptroller’s equitable exercise of his broad authority,” Martin wrote. “The Court does not have enough information, however, to determine if the circumstances of the other municipalities Mason cites as receiving different treatment are sufficiently similar to support these claims.” 

In addition, Martin noted that Mumpower’s need to support local towns and their finances far outweighs Mason town officials’ concerns about racial discrimination.

At present, Mason town officials have not submitted an on-time annual budget since the 2001 fiscal year. In addition, financial records from 2004 to 2016 were not auditable, according to the comptroller’s office. In addition, the town’s budget deficit continues to climb; in 2016, it was $126,659 and by the 2020 fiscal year, the deficit was $481,620.  The town is currently using its federal pandemic funds of $227,000 to repay its water and sewer funds. 

Attorneys representing the comptroller’s office contend their financial takeover could be finalized by summer and will support the town in balancing its budget effectively. 

“We will continue to work with Mason so that it can pay back its debts, operate on a balanced budget, and deliver timely financial statements,” Mumpower said in a statement. “The citizens and taxpayers of Mason deserve a financially sound government that is set up for success.”

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