What Happened When a Black Town in Tennessee Faced a State Takeover

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The lawsuit that Mason’s mayor and board of aldermen filed against the Tennesee Treasury Comptroller accused Mumpower of racial discrimination and financial abuse of power. The lawsuit also said the comptroller’s financial oversight plan violated the Tennessee Constitution, according to the Tennessee Observer.

“It was a power grab, not a way to support citizens,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “They were looking to dissolve the town,” he said, following Mason’s financial control of majority-white Tipton County.

Johnson said the comptroller’s actions had racist overtones, since indebted majority white municipalities, like neighboring Jellico County, weren’t forced to face the same ultimatum, reflecting the state’s history of targeting black leaders.

For Mason, before the trial, Johnson said “democracy doesn’t work.”

As a result of the settlement, the city is now required to repay approximately $5,000 per month, which NAACP senior associate general counsel Anthony Ashton says is a more manageable payment plan compared to the $22,000 the Comptroller demanded. previously. And instead of requiring approval for every spend over $100 each time it occurs, the spend threshold has been increased to $1,000 and is approved monthly.

The city also managed to pay off some of its nearly $600,000 debt, bringing it down to around $248,000, which will be repaid over four years.

“The debt was incurred from a previous administration,” Ashton said. “This administration was actively and promptly reimbursing her, and yet it was this administration that received a target from the Comptroller to ‘surrender your charter’. The corrective action plan was ‘so strict and overwhelming’ that it would ‘financially ruin the city,” he added.

Andrea Morales for NBC News

In a statement in March, Ford acknowledged the tensions but said the situation was between the state and Mason and denied any involvement. Rivers said Ford representatives met with his administration in April to hear Mason’s version, but offered no help.

“We have had several conversations with Mason officials to ensure they are well positioned to benefit from the economic growth we are bringing to the region, and we will continue to engage with Mason and other western communities. of Tennessee to help them prepare for potential jobs and investments for their residents,” Ford said in a statement shared with NBC News in June. “Ford is committed to being a good neighbor and providing fair opportunity.”

During the dispute, many people on social media also called for action, including a Virginia resident, identified as KD, who started a series of hashtags, petitions and fundraisers in Mason’s name.

“They need a lot of economic substance there – where the money would directly benefit the people of Mason because they are the ones who are suffering the most,” said KD, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. “So we were able to create this GoFundMe page strictly for that purpose.”

Since then, KD’s efforts have raised nearly $18,000 in donations from more than 325 supporters across the country. KD is currently withdrawing the funds and plans to give the money to Mason in the form of a cashier’s check, they said.

While this new deal may seem like a win for the city, not everyone is happy. Rivers said if Mason Mayor Emmit Gooden hadn’t approved dropping the lawsuit against the comptroller, the city’s reimbursement terms wouldn’t have changed. She also said the comptroller’s financial oversight will cease if the city’s 2023 budget is approved by August.

“I’m not completely satisfied but it’s better than what we had,” she said.

Mumpower released an updated corrective action plan in May with terms of agreement, one requiring the city to maintain regular contact with the comptroller’s office or it will be deemed in violation of the plan.

“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 released in May. “By agreeing to change its practices and work with our office, Mason will operate with a balanced budget, strive to correct its audit findings and eliminate abusive borrowing. More importantly, if Mason follows this plan, taxpayers can know that their leaders are good stewards of their money.


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