Black-majority city in Tennessee blocks state takeover in settlement deal

Nashville, Tenn. ( Associated Press) — After alleging that Tennessee’s top politicians are conducting undue scrutiny over the finances of a primarily black town, the small town of Mason announced Wednesday that it would seek to stem the threat of a state takeover of its finances. An agreement has been reached.

The agreement marks a victory for city officials, who argued that the state was treating Mason’s majority-black leaders differently than they have white administrators who also struggle with finances.

“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,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson.

The issue began when Comptroller Jason Mumpower asked the leaders of the city of Mason to surrender their charter, pointing to ongoing years of financial mismanagement. After Mason voters refused to do so, Mumpower later said the state would monitor its financials.

News of the pending acquisition quickly attracted national attention as many reported that Mason is located near the site of a future $5.6 billion Ford electric pickup truck factory, which is expected to employ about 5,600 workers at the plant, and Factory building will create thousands more jobs.

The 2020 census shows Mason’s population at around 1,330. But this has come down to less than 800 after a private prison recently closed.

“For too long, we have seen highways through our cities in our community, or hostile takeovers by states,” Johnson said. “Here is an opportunity for citizens to uphold our charter, apply best practices, and participate in the opportunities we are bringing to economic growth for this community.”

Read more: Judge refuses to block Tennessee state’s acquisition of Majority-Black Town’s finances

City leaders quickly filed a lawsuit – with the help of the NAACP – alleging additional investigation at the Ford plant pending, hoping to prevent the takeover. Notably, the suit sought to challenge the state’s order that Mason was approved to spend more than $100 — a dire requirement that city leaders said would make it impossible to do business.

“He set up Mason to fail,” said attorney Van Turner Jr., president of the NAACP Memphis branch, which represented Mason’s city leaders.

Last month, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin denied Mason’s initial request to temporarily halt the takeover while the lawsuit went through the court, which Turner called a “setback” but said the case To be able to survive and come to an agreement is a “significant victory.”

Under the agreement, Mason officers will notify the status of any non-payroll expense in excess of $1,000. Masons officers also have to file monthly reports to the state and not weekly reports as was required initially. Notably, the deal would reduce the monthly payment that Mason was paying for its water and sewer fund from $10,000 to about $5,100.

The settlement, which was presented in court on Wednesday, still must be ratified by Martin.

“Mason’s agreement for a new corrective action plan is an important step in restoring the financial health of the city,” Mumpower said in a statement. “More importantly, if Mason follows through with 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 the 2001 fiscal year and the financial statements from 2004 to 2016 were “essentially non-auditable.” The budget deficit has increased from $126,659 in the 2016 fiscal year to $481,620 in 2020.

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