The predominantly Black town of Mason, Tennessee, has been in a legal battle with the state comptroller’s office over the control of the town’s finances in an effort to stop a hostile takeover.
Mason town officials have reached an agreement with the state comptroller’s office regarding its finances. This move is a step forward in dismissing its racial discrimination lawsuit against that office.
Jason Mumpower, the state comptroller, agreed that Mason town officials would work with a corrective action plan instead of having its finances controlled by that office.
“Mason’s agreement to a new corrective action plan is a significant step in restoring the town’s financial health. By agreeing to change its practice and work with our Office, Mason will operate on a balanced budget, work toward correcting auditing findings and eliminate improper borrowing,” Mumpower said in a released statement. “Most importantly, if Mason follows this plan, taxpayers can know their leaders are good stewards of their money.”
The town will receive guidance and support from a certified public accounting firm to decrease its debt and manage finances as part of the agreement. The town is expected to submit financial information to Mumpower’s office monthly. In addition, Mason will be expected to continue paying down its utility funds debt.
In response to Mumpower’s office attempted takeover of Mason, the town filed a racial discrimination suit against the office. The town of Mason, which has a population of less than 1,500 people and is predominantly Black and Democrat, is located in Tipton County, Tennessee. The county is predominately white and Republican.
In March, the comptroller’s office began pressuring the town to surrender its charter or allow Mumpower’s office to manage its finances. Mumpower charged that the town had mismanaged its funds and cited late annual audits dating back to 2021, and a deficit of over $300,000. Mumpower’s office also mailed letters to property owners asking them to oppose the town’s elected officials, who are largely Black.
Town officials decided to refuse surrending their charter for several reasons. First, relinquishing its charter would mean that they would lose control of their finances. Tipton County would then manage its finances. Town leaders also refused to surrender their charter, arguing their financial difficulties resulted from fraud and embezzlement of previous administrations. In addition, these debts were in the process of being repaid, town officials said.
In response to the town’s refusal to surrender its charter, Mumpower took over its finances — making it impossible for town officials to make decisions costing more than $100. Mumpower’s push came just as Ford Motor Company began building a $5.6 billion plant seven miles away from Mason, positioning the small town for strong economic development.
As national criticism of the comptroller’s office mounted, Mumpower acknowledged that town officials had taken the necessary steps to overcome their debt and believed the financial takeover would end as early as June.
Mason town officials fought back by filing an injunction against the comptroller’s office and citing racial discrimination as other predominantly white towns with greater deficits had not faced a financial takeover. Although the court ruled in the comptroller’s favor, the presence of racial discrimination was questioned.
“This settlement agreement is a good thing for the town’s citizens, and it’s a good thing for African Americans across the country,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson told the Associated Press. “For far too long, we’ve seen highways going through our cities in our community or hostile takeover by states. Here’s an opportunity for the citizens to retain their charter, implement best practices and participate in the opportunities that the economic development we’re bringing for this community.”