Tennessee could scale back oversight of town’s finances

Mar 23, 2022, 8:53 AM | Updated: 6:42 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The state of Tennessee could scale back its financial oversight of a majority-Black town near the site of a planned Ford truck plant if it meets certain goals by this summer, a move that comes after the state takeover drew national attention, officials said Wednesday.

Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower said last week that his office was taking over the finances of Mason, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northeast of Memphis. The state comptroller’s office said the town, which is not far from a planned Ford electric pickup factory, has experienced 20 years of financial mismanagement.

Mumpower is allowed under state law to direct Mason’s financial affairs, including the review and approval of all spending involving taxpayer or ratepayer money, his office said. The takeover came after Mason’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen refused to surrender its charter.

The town’s current leadership is mostly Black, but white leaders were in charge for many of the years that the state said Mason’s affairs were mismanaged. State officials have maintained that the problems continued even after the change in leadership roughly six years ago.

Mason has not submitted its annual audit on time since the 2001 fiscal year and financial statements from 2004 to 2016 “were essentially un-auditable,” the comptroller’s office said Thursday. Budget deficits have mounted, from $126,659 in the 2016 fiscal year to $481,620 in 2020.

Mumpower met with Mason officials Tuesday. The day before, Mason had voted to use about $227,000 from American Rescue Plan funds to pay back part of the $597,905 the town owes its water and sewer funds, said John Dunn, spokesman for the comptroller’s office.

Auditors will verify that Mason has transferred the money, Dunn said. If the transfer takes place, “we have pledged to immediately restructure the town’s financial supervision plan,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Also, if Mason can produce a balanced budget for fiscal year 2022-23 and complete its audits by this summer, “the Comptroller’s Office can scale back its enhanced supervision over the town’s financial operations,” Dunn said.

The meeting came after some questioned the timing of the comptroller’s decision to assume control of finances by Mason, a rural town of about 1,330 people.

The town has seen investigations into misconduct and accounting irregularities, including one by the comptroller’s office cited in a report in 2016, when its leaders were mostly white. Several officials resigned. The town’s current mayor and vice mayor are Black, as are most of its aldermen.

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators met Tuesday with Mason officials and Mumpower, a white Republican and former member of the state General Assembly. A statement from the caucus noted that the comptroller’s takeover of “the majority Black, majority Democratic town on the eve of a major development in the area triggered national news.”

“Mason leaders had questioned why if the town had been mismanaged by white city officials for more than 20 years, why was the proposed takeover happening now under African-American leadership and when the city is on the verge of a financial boon?” the caucus’ statement said.

In a statement last week, Mumpower said Mason had been mismanaged “regardless of who was leading the town.”

Dunn said Tuesday that the criticism “played no role” in the negotiations to possibly scale back oversight.

Located in Tipton County, Mason is not far from the planned, $5.6 billion Ford factory in neighboring Haywood County. Officials say the plant, called Blue Oval City, will boost West Tennessee’s economy. Ford plans to employ about 5,600 workers at the plant, and construction of the factory will create thousands more jobs.

The plant is expected to bring both small and large businesses to the area, including hotels, restaurants, health care facilities and suppliers for the Ford factory, among others. Real estate values also could increase.

Vice-Mayor Virginia Rivers has opposed the takeover, saying the problems were present before the current predominantly Black town administration took over.

During a conference call late Wednesday, Rivers said Mason would be prevented from applying for grants and would have to get approval from the state to spend more than $100, which would strain the city and set the town up for failure.

“Once Ford showed up, that’s when Mason seemed to be so important,” Rivers said.

In a statement, Ford said it was aware of the situation. Although it has not been directly involved, Ford said it “reached out to state and local community leaders to express concern and learn more.”

“As we ramp up construction of Blue Oval City this year and move toward production in 2025, Ford is absolutely committed to being a good neighbor and providing inclusive and equitable opportunities for West Tennesseans, including the residents of Mason,” Ford’s statement said.


Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A newly released report on last year’s fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of bicycl...

Associated Press

Report suggests steering of vehicle that caused fatal Goodyear bicycle crash worked fine

A new report on last year’s fatal Goodyear bicycle crash has cast doubts about the driver’s claim the vehicle’s steering locked up.

17 hours ago

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

3 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

3 days ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

7 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

8 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

15 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Tennessee could scale back oversight of town’s finances