Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) on Tuesday (March 22) met with Tennessee state Comptroller Jason Mumpower and Mason, Tennessee Vice-Mayor Virginia Rivers to help iron out a squabble over the town’s $597,000 deficit.
Disturbed to learn that the state of Tennessee had initiated steps to take over the majority African-American town in Tipton County, the lawmakers learned in the meeting that an agreement already had been forged.
Mumpower told lawmakers that some of the state’s federal dollars would be used to pay down Mason’s deficit.
“Even State Comptroller Jason Mumpower had to admit that the optics of a white Republican-led state government taking over the predominantly African-American town of Mason looked really bad,” said state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat and immediate past president of TBCSL.
“Mumpower then told us that the state had worked out a mutually agreeable plan with Mason. It was good to know they were communicating.”
Mumpower said, “We spoke to Mason officials earlier today, and a plan has been worked out that will utilize American Rescue Plan dollars. … The roughly $250,000 will allow the town to catch up on its debt. That’s nearly half of the discrepancy.”
Periodic, follow-up meetings with the Black Caucus will be scheduled with the comptroller and Mason officials to make sure the plan is putting Mason “back on the right track” because the city “must be preserved,” Hardaway said.
“We had to get involved to make sure Mason is kept intact,” said Hardaway.
“The economic boom of Ford’s $5.6 billion investment to build an electric vehicle plant just 4.5 miles from Mason is huge. We want to make sure the people of Mason get the maximum benefit from the great prospects for massive economic development.”
Vice-Mayor Virginia Rivers had denounced Mumpower’s early-March demand to “give up the city charter or face the state’s takeover.”
After the town fought against surrendering its charter, the Comptroller’s Office announced it was taking control of Mason’s finances.
Tennessee government’s proposed seizure captured national attention, prompting Mumpower to admit during Tuesday’s meeting that “the optics were horrible.”
Mason’s financial woes date back 20 years under a “white mayor,” leading many to label the takeover after all this time as “hostile,” with racial motives, according to Rivers.
Nearly 72 percent of Mason’s total population, the mayor, and five of its six aldermen, all are African Americans.
Rivers said the present administration came to power in 2015, facing a deficit of millions through “mismanagement and fraud of prior administrations.”
Rivers said the town had done well in paying down the initial arrears.
Mumpower’s partial $250,000 solution comes from The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the “COVID-19 Stimulus Package,” which set aside $1.9 trillion in economic stimulus for states, to ease financial devastation caused by the pandemic. It became effective on Mar 11, 2021.
TBCSL President Antonio Parkinson said there would be careful observance of the situation going forward to guarantee fairness.
“The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators will closely monitor the state’s financial supervision of Mason,” said Parkinson.
“We want to ensure fairness and transparency. Good communication is needed to put Mason back in position to get the maximum benefit of Ford’s BlueOval City. We will act as monitors of the process.”
Parkinson said the Ford Motor Company expressed a willingness Tuesday to help the town of Mason. However, Hardaway told Mason officials that a comprehensive plan for repayment of the deficit should first be put in place, prior to Ford being brought into the process.
Ford’s $5.6 billion investment calls for plans to build a plant producing the “next generation electric vehicles,” bringing more than 26,000 new jobs to the area.
When first given the choices of either surrendering the city charter, or having the state come in and take over finances, Mason’s mayor and aldermen voted “no” on surrendering the charter.
“Our charter is 153 years old,” said Rivers. “We could never do that. This is our city. This is our home.”