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Small Black town fights back Tennessee takeover threats

Tennessee has threatened to take over the town of Mason, which has had years of financial troubles

The state of Tennessee is threatening to take control over a small, mostly Black community in an action that one city official says is tinged with racism.

The events over the past month have been, at best, confusing. 

The state announced on March 3 that it was taking over the small town of Mason, which is 72% Black, because of a history of financial issues, as reported by WMC-TV.

Mason, Tennessee (photo cred: WMC-TV)

Officials in the western Tennessee town of roughly 1,500 people also voted against a request by the state to surrender its charter, according to the report. That would’ve effectively forced the area to no longer exist as a municipality.

Then, on March 23, the state, citing a positive meeting, said it might be able to release Mason from financial oversight as soon as July or August, according to Tennessee Lookout.

The state’s action has been met with fury in Mason, where people believe greed and race are motivating factors for the state.

“People try to tap-dance around it, but the truth is this is happening because of who we are,” Mason Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers told the Tennessee Lookout.

Mason, which has a history of financial challenges, for years has borrowed nearly $600,000 from its utility company to pay its bills, according to CNN. The town voted to use a portion of its money from the American Rescue Funds to pay down the debt to about $260,000, the Lookout reported.

Still, state Comptroller Jason Mumpower seemed intent on a “hostile takeover,” Rivers said.

There are lots of layers to the situation.

First, if Mason were to give up its charter — a request town administrators rejected — it would become part of Tipton County. The county, with almost 62,000 residents, is 75% white and 71% Republican, the Lookout reported.

Then, there’s the new Ford Motor Company project that will change the area. Ford plans in 2025 to open plant roughly 10 miles away from Mason. The $5.8 billion project planned on 3,6000 acres will create 6,000 jobs to assemble electric vehicles and batteries. 

If Mason were to give up its charter, any relevant revenue driven by the new plant revenue, like taxes, would go to Tipton County instead of the city.

The letter from the comptroller’s office didn’t sit well with local officials, which prompted River’s “hostile takeover” comment. The comptroller’s office itself called the move “unprecedented.” 

 “We have not issued a letter to citizens like this before,” spokesman John Dunn told the Lookout, noting it is “unprecedented for us to publicly call for a town charter to be relinquished.”

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