Mason, Tennessee has become a political hotspot for more than the nearby highly anticipated Blue Oval City auto plant.
In the last week of August, four candidates had qualified to appear on the ballot for mayor this November: the incumbent Emmitt Gooden, Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers, Alderman Eddie Noeman, and Thomas Burrell.
On Sept. 9, the ballot was reduced by one after Burrell was deemed “unqualified” to run by the Tipton County Election Commission and Tipton County NAACP President Christopher Brent.
“I am now filing an appeal to the state,” said Burrell, who is also president of Black Farmers & Agriculturalist Association, Inc. “Before the hearing, they violated the open meetings act in Tipton County. I had no idea there was even an issue with my candidacy because no one expressed any concern, to me, at least.”
According to official documents surrounding Burrell’s disqualification, it was determined that Burrell did not meet the six-month residency requirement.
“The fact that the president of the NAACP would stand in the way of a Black man’s right to vote and run for office is just unthinkable,” said Burrell. “Mr. Brent is in a conflict of interest because he is making himself a party to a scheme, a conspiracy to deny an African American his right to vote or run for office.”
Burrell said Brent “eagerly casted his vote” to have him disqualified after a two-hour hearing in which Burrell was extensively questioned about his newly rented residence in the city of Mason.
Brent was called and asked to comment, but declined, saying he was “under counsel” and advised not to make any further statement regarding the matter.
“The late Congressman John Lewis and Dr. Martin L. King Jr. are turning over in their graves,” said Burrell. “This type of unlawful deprivation of the right to vote and running for political office by Black persons is precisely what, so we thought, the NAACP was established to fight against.
Burrell’s appeal to the state, set to be filed Thursday (Oct. 6), will be his second attempt to have the situation remedied in court.
Burrell filed a restraining order against the Tipton County Election Commission in the United States District Court Western District of Tennessee, which would have prevented the removal of his name from the Nov. 8 ballot.
The order was denied on Sept. 27.
Specifically, Burrell’s order of restraint was denied based on the plaintiff’s failure to satisfactorily prove residency in Mason for six months.
Burrell said he is a life-long resident of Tipton County, where Mason is located, and moved from nearby Atoka on May 4, 2022. Burrell filed a petition to become a candidate for mayor on June 20, 2022.
Tipton County Election Commission Administrator Cindy Pinner at that time publicly announced that Burrell had met all qualifications for mayoral candidacy.
Burrell said open meeting statutes had been violated because he was not privy to meetings Pinner, Brent, and others were “secretly” having prior to the public hearing in late August.
Mason, located on U.S 70 about 45 miles northeast of Memphis, has a population of 1,337 residents, according to the 2020 Census.
Pinner was contacted by The New Tri-State Defender asked to make a comment but said “no one is here” who can speak with the press regarding Burrell’s case.