Sunday, March 27, 2022

Tennessee Comptroller scales back financial oversight plans for African American town of Mason

After a state takeover of the finances of the majority Black town of Mason Tennessee, Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower said that the town could be free from state financial oversight as soon as July or August after a "very positive meeting" between state and local officials.

"We were able to put together a positive plan moving forward," Mumpower said shortly after a 70-minute meeting with Mason's Mayor, Vice Mayor and financial staff. "We can release them from financial oversight sooner rather than later."

Mason's Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers said that — while she is hopeful the meeting will lead to restoring autonomy to locally elected leaders — she remains frustrated. Mason officials presented current financial statements that appeared to satisfy Mumpower and his staff on Tuesday, including proof they had complied with a repayment plan for longstanding debt. That information has been available all along, she said.

Mason officials have been making $10,100 monthly payments toward debt for the past two years, Vice-Mayor Virginia Rivers said. Those payments were not accounted for in the Comptroller public statements about Mason's financial status, she said.

"All of this could have been avoided if Mr. Mumpower had come to us and had a meeting with us like we did today," Rivers said. "He just came in with a demand."

The meeting took place after several contentious weeks beginning with the Comptroller's ultimatum to Mason's elected leaders in February:

Either give up their town's charter — subsuming the predominantly Black and Democrat community under the governance of majority white, majority Republican Tipton County — or, Mumpower said, he would take control of the town's finances for an open-ended period of time, controlling any expenditures of $100 or more.

The dispute gained national attention, with public criticism over the Comptroller's efforts to exert control over a financially struggling, majority Black town just as it was poised to reap the benefits from a $5.6 billion Ford Motor Company electric vehicle plant soon to be built less than five miles away. Ford Motor Company officials weighed in, too, saying they had reached out to state and local officials to express concern.The agreement hammered out between Mason and state officials Tuesday appears to put the town on a far different footing than it faced last week.


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