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Tennessee takes over town’s finances, cites mismanagement

March 17, 2022 GMT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The state of Tennessee is taking over financial supervision of the town of Mason after years of mismanagement, officials said Thursday.

Mason is a majority-Black town located in West Tennessee, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Memphis. The state comptroller’s office said the town, located not far from a planned Ford electric pickup truck factory, has experienced 20 years of financial mismanagement.

Tennessee Comptroller Jason 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 in a statement. The takeover comes after Mason’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen refused to surrender its charter, the statement said.

Census data showed Mason’s population at about 1,330. But the population has fallen to about 794 people after the recent closure of a prison, the comptroller’s office said.

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The Comptroller’s Division of Local Government Finance will supervise the town government “for as long as it takes for Mason to improve its financial condition,” the statement said.

“The citizens and taxpayers of Mason deserve a financially sound government,” Mumpower said. “By closely supervising the town’s finances, we will put Mason on a path toward fiscal responsibility.”

Mason’s vice mayor did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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. Budget deficits have mounted, from $126,659 in the 2016 fiscal year to $481,620 in 2020.

Mumpower also will direct the town to operate on a balanced budget and pay back an estimated $597,000 that Mason currently owes to its water and sewer fund by the end of June 2024.

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.

“For at least 20 years, Mason has been poorly managed regardless of who was leading the town,” the comptroller’s office said.

Located in Tipton County, Mason is not far from the planned Ford factory in neighboring Haywood County. Officials say the plant will enhance West Tennessee’s economy — Ford plans to employ more than 5,000 works at the plant and thousands more jobs will be created by construction of the factory.

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.