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State maintains control of Mason’s finances as settlement talks continue

Despite a chancellor’s refusal to stop the state’s takeover of Mason, Tennessee’s finances, negotiations between state and city officials to settle the matter are ongoing.

“Of course, we were terribly disappointed in the ruling,” said Mason Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers. “But we are still encouraged because the judge did not dismiss our case, which gives us the option of further litigation.

“However, since the ruling, attorneys for Mason and the comptroller’s office have been in negotiations. We are hopeful that a mutually agreeable resolution might be reached through this process.”

Mason officials had sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block the takeover, but a Chancery Court chancellor in Nashville denied the request. 

The chancellor, however, did not dismiss the case against the state, leaving the door open for future litigation.

Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower took control of Mason’s finances on April 4. 

Mumpower, initially, had demanded that Mason either surrender its charter or relinquish control of its finances to the state. Mason officials voted to keep the charter. 

The comptroller took over finances, restricting the town from spending any amount over $100 without permission from the state. 

Rivers denounced the move as a “hostile takeover …We felt the state was punishing the present administration for a deficit left years ago by prior administrations.” 

Rivers continued, “Thankfully, we have moved on from there, and I believe both sides are truly working in good faith to resolve this issue.” 

Mumpower cited a $597,000 fiscal deficit as justification for taking over Mason’s finances.

Mumpower later said $250,000 of the deficit would be given to Mason from the state’s American Rescue Plan funds, a federal, COVID-19 recovery allocation. 

“We would remind everyone that the fiscal mismanagement occurred 10 years ago under a different administration,” said Vickie Terry, executive director of the Memphis Branch NAACP.

“This current leadership has been working to correct previous mistakes. We feel the comptroller should have come in offering support, instead of demanding the town’s charter.”

NAACP branches all over Tennessee staged a rally of support for town residents and continue to seek ways of offering assistance.

“We are pleased that our legal counsel has worked with the judge to lower the amount of Mason’s monthly repayment,” said NAACP State President Gloria Sweetlove.

“Also, the amount has been increased that Mason officials can spend without the comptroller’s permission. We continue to ask supporters to send funds to help pay off the debt.”

After the chancellor’s ruling, Mumpower issued a statement expressing appreciation for the chancellor’s favorable ruling, but also reiterated that his interest “Has always been the restoration of the town’s financial health…

“We will continue to work with Mason so that it can pay back its debts, operate on a balanced budget, and deliver timely financial statements”.

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr., a lawyer involved in negotiations, is hopeful that “the matter will be settled.”

“I can tell you that the parties are continuing to negotiate,” said Turner. “We are trying to come to a settlement that will resolve the matter.”

Turner declined to predict a time frame for resolution.

Almost immediately after the chancellor’s ruling, the two parties reopened talks.

“I am really hopeful that some resolution can be reached,” said Terry. “Asking Mason residents to give up their charter is unthinkable. 

“The town is so rich in history, and many of the residents are descendants of freed slaves, who settled there. This is their heritage. The charter is too high a price to pay.”

Mason is situated along U.S. Route 70 in Tipton County. The population is about 1,337, according to the latest Census figures. However, since the closing of the West Tennessee Detention Facility, the population now is estimated to be about 800.

Blue Oval City, a $5.6 billion Ford electric vehicle plant, will be built four miles away in neighboring Haywood County. Construction should begin by summer, Ford officials said.

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