Tennessee Black-majority city takeover case earlier than decide

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s prime leaders solely started rising scrutiny over a small city’s funds after a predominantly Black administration took over key positions, a transfer that attorneys on Wednesday argued strays considerably from how the state has handled white-majority jurisdictions.

Earlier this yr, Comptroller Jason Mumpower raised eyebrows when he introduced the state would take over monetary supervision of Mason, a city positioned close to the positioning of a future Ford electrical pickup truck manufacturing facility, due to ongoing years of mismanagement. Mumpower made the choice after initially asking Mason’s city leaders to give up their constitution, which they refused to do.

Days after the takeover was introduced, Mumpower added that the state may cut back its monetary oversight if Mason met sure objectives by this summer season.

Town leaders have since filed a lawsuit looking for to cease the takeover and problem the state’s authorized standing to require that Mason get approval to spend greater than $100. They argue that the state is treating Mason’s majority-Black leaders otherwise than they’ve white directors who have been fighting funds, and allege that the pending Ford plant has sparked additional scrutiny.

Both sides introduced their arguments Wednesday in Nashville earlier than Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin.

“If the comptroller was serious about this, why not come in seven years ago and ask for the charter to be relinquished?” lawyer Van Turner Jr., president of the NAACP Memphis department who’s representing Mason’s city leaders, mentioned throughout a listening to Wednesday. “We think there is an aspect of discriminatory treatment in this case.”

The state’s attorneys argued {that a} corrective plan formulated by the comptroller’s workplace will assist Mason lastly steadiness its funds with out having to improperly dip into different funds.

“The town will not be harmed; it stands to benefit,” argued JP Urban with the Tennessee Attorney General’s workplace. “This is the best way to prevent matters from getting worse.”

Turner countered that whereas the state has beforehand taken over different cities’ funds, it did so with out asking for an area jurisdiction to first hand over its constitution. He additionally argued that the state overreached its authority by demanding approval of any expenditures above $100.

The state’s lawyer defended the strict expenditure restrict, saying it was primarily based on “historical data” supplied by Mason officers, however the decide remarked that $100 is “a small amount for anyone to run a business.”

Martin later requested if the state gave Mason a “no-win choice” by asking it to surrender its constitution or face heightened monetary scrutiny.

“It’s a very difficult choice, something that had to be done,” Urban replied.

Martin mentioned she’s going to challenge a choice someday later subsequent week.

Located in Tipton County, Mason is just not removed from the deliberate, $5.6 billion Ford manufacturing facility in neighboring Haywood County. Officials say the plant, which is able to produce electrical pickup vans, will increase West Tennessee’s financial system. Ford plans to make use of about 5,600 employees on the plant, and development of the manufacturing facility will create 1000’s extra jobs.

News of Tennessee’s plan to take over Mason’s funds sparked criticism from most of the state’s Black and Democratic leaders. Republican Gov. Bill Lee advised reporters final month that he had not spoken to Mumpower concerning the choice. However, his workplace acknowledged in mid-March that “Ford is a bit spun up over this” in an electronic mail supplied to The Associated Press by means of a public information request.

The 2020 Census exhibits Mason’s inhabitants at about 1,330. But that fell to lower than 800 after a jail closed not too long ago.

Mason has not submitted its annual audit on time for the reason that 2001 fiscal yr and monetary statements from 2004 to 2016 “were essentially un-auditable,” the comptroller’s workplace has mentioned. Budget deficits have mounted, from $126,659 within the 2016 fiscal yr to $481,620 in 2020.

Mason has already voted to make use of about $227,000 of the federal pandemic funds it acquired to pay again a part of the practically $598,000 the city owes its water and sewer funds.

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