On Friday, on behalf of the Town of Mason, the NAACP’s Legal Defense & Education Fund filed a lawsuit for an injunction against the comptroller’s financial oversight.
The suit claims the state is taking measures to control the predominantly Black town in a way it hasn’t done to other towns in worse financial shape.
“The comptroller’s decision comes just as Mason is on the verge of an economic transformation as a result of the Ford Motor Company’s plan to build a multi-billion-dollar electric car battery manufacturing plant within Mason’s boundaries,” a letter from the organization read.
The plant, which will be located five miles from Mason, is set to bring thousands of new jobs and revitalize its neighboring communities.
The plant’s impending construction is one reason comptroller Jason Mumpower visited Mason on Feb. 8 and asked town leaders to relinquish the charter or, because of 20 years of mismanagement, it will be under his financial control until it’s back in good standing.
The comptroller cited illegal interfund transfers – supplementing the general fund with the utility funds – and late audits as the reason it wants to help. Audits have been, on average, four years late.
For the majority of that time Mason has been led by a mayor and board of aldermen which was majority – but not entirely – white.
Though the comptroller’s office investigated several issues with the town’s finances over the last two decades, this was the first time it has taken over its finances, the lawsuit noted.
“State officials made no efforts to take control of Mason’s finances at that time ….”
The current administration, which is now majority Black, has worked to submit several audits since 2019. The 2020 audit was submitted last month with 2021 currently in progress. They’ve reported they’ve been working to repay the utility fund as well.
“… Mason is on the verge of an economic boom,” the letter stated. “These circumstances suggest that the timing of the state’s takeover is irrational, its justification implausible, and the state’s actions may be motivated, at least in part, by racial discrimination.”
The suit suggests the comptroller has exceeded its authority under state law through the takeover and said TCA 9-21-403(c) “does not appear to contemplate day-to-day supervision by the state over a town’s financial transactions.”
Further, the suit alleges the comptroller is violating the Equal Protection Clause, citing the history of Mason, the Ford announcement, and “procedural departures from ordinary decision making.”
The corrective action plan, which went into effect on Monday, limits spending by Mason’s elected officials.
In affidavits filed with the suit, mayor Emmit Gooden, vice mayor Virginia Rivers, and financial officer Reva Marshall said the $100 limit restricts the town from operating as it should be able to. For instance, diesel trucks and fire trucks cannot be filled with fuel without approval from officials in Nashville and would require Marshall to be on call at all hours of the day to communicate with the comptroller’s office in an emergency.
“… The plan remains unduly burdensome, strips elected officials from their ability to operate, and lacks a definitive end point,” the NAACP said.
On Saturday, town leaders and the NAACP held a rally in front of city hall to celebrate.
On Wednesday, there was an emergency hearing in which Mason and its lawyers, Terry Clayton and Van Turner Jr., hope will result in a temporary injunction so the town can be removed from the comptroller’s control.
A decision is expected to be made by Friday, April 15.
Additionally, Mason has charged Tipton County owes them more than $120,000. After its entire fire department resigned in 2015, the county withdrew $20,000 annual contributions and the town said these funds could help with their repayment.