Today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury regarding the State of Tennessee’s planned takeover of the town of Mason, a small, majority-Black town 40 miles from Memphis. The letter expresses concern with the State’s unprecedented decision to usurp financial control from elected officials in Mason, and to assume all economic decision-making for an indefinite period. The letter also raises concerns about racial discrimination in the decision.
On March 3, residents of Mason received a letter from the Comptroller of the Treasury urging the town to relinquish its charter. On March 10, Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers presented a 12-point rebuttal at a town hall meeting to respond to the Comptroller’s claims that “government is not working.” And on March 14, the Mayor and the town’s Alderpersons unanimously voted against relinquishing the town’s charter. When Mason officials refused to dissolve, the State Comptroller’s office declared that it would take over the town’s finances. The Comptroller has cited financial mismanagement as a justification for the State taking over Mason’s finances. But, while Mason experienced significant financial mismanagement in the past, it has made great strides at improving its finances under the leadership of Black elected officials. 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.
There is no legitimate justification for the state takeover of Mason’s finances. Under white leadership seven years ago, Mason’s finances were even more dire, and unauthorized financial actions by an elected official led to a criminal indictment, but the Comptroller did not take over financial control. The timing of the State’s decision raises concerns about racial discrimination under the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution. Concerns about the irrational and discriminatory treatment of Mason are underscored by how rarely the State has taken over a municipality’s finances. The State has stepped in to take over complete financial control from local elected officials just three times in the past.
LDF has serious concerns that the State’s unprecedented action in asserting complete financial control over Mason is inconsistent with state and federal law. LDF urges the Comptroller of Treasury to reconsider this extraordinary decision and to allow Black residents of Mason to have an equal opportunity—as required by the state and federal constitutions—as residents across the State to have decisions about local economic development made by their locally elected officials.
Read the full letter here.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization. LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.