Mason, Tennessee, is a tiny town that stands to benefit a great deal from Ford Motor Company’s massive investment in electric trucks and batteries. With construction starting on a 4,100-acre truck and battery plant sometime this year, Tennessee’s Comptroller has a message for elected leaders and residents: Dissolve your town’s 153-year-old charter or the state will simply take the town over.
Mason is less than five miles from Ford’s planned Blue Oval City, one of the new battery and EV truck plants slated to open in 2025 in the American south. The town stands to profit a great deal from the construction and operation of such a plant. It’s the first boon the people of Mason have had in a while. The last few years have been a difficult road. The town of 1,337 property owners — around 60 percent Black — lost nearly all of its white elected officials after they resigned in 2016 when 20 years of fraud and theft came to light. Three years ago, the only grocery store in town was hit by a semi and burned down.
Now Mason is slowly rebuilding with a mostly Black town government. What should be an exciting time in Mason is now a direct threat to its existence as this new investment from Ford is exactly what led Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower to issue the unprecedented request that the town dissolve in order to thrive. The Tennessee Lookout has the story:
“In my opinion, it’s time for Mason to relinquish its charter,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower wrote in a letter mailed to each one of Mason’s 1,337 property owners.
Mumpower urged local residents to “encourage your local officials to do what’s necessary to allow Mason to thrive. There is no time to waste.”
State comptrollers, responsible for financial oversight of local government, typically communicate directly with elected local leaders and not their constituents. “We have not issued a letter to citizens like this before,” Comptroller spokesman John Dunn said, noting it is “unprecedented for us to publicly call for a town charter to be relinquished.”
Mumpower’s letter has infuriated Mason’s part-time elected officials, who insist they have no intention of ceding their town’s 153-year-old charter – which would subsume the largely African-American, majority Democratic community under the governance of Tipton County, which is predominantly white and Republican.
“This is our home. We were born and raised here. The majority of the town is homegrown people that live here,” Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers said. “He is trying to conquer and divide us. It’s akin to a hostile take-over and it’s not hard to figure out why here, why now.”
Mumpower’s choice of either dissolve or be taken over isn’t much of a choice to the people of Mason. Virginia Rivers, vice-mayor of Mason, says the town is doing its best to recover from the hundreds of thousands of dollars stollen from the town by past crooked elected officials. They want to keep their homes, their community and their charter. Some of the residents are descended from former slaves who first made Mason their home. They have deep roots in the area and are not willing to give up self-governance now that they have a chance to right the wrongs done to them, especially to the mostly white and conservative Tippin County, where Mason resides.
Residents of Mason are not going down without a fight, from the Lookout:
“It’s kind of hard to go through this and not be recognized as a city that’s trying to progress,” Rivers said. “It seems like no matter what we do we’re knocked down. Why didn’t they hold the previous administrations responsible?”
Town officials won’t cede their charter, and they plan to fight any effort to take over the city financially, Rivers said.
And, she told residents, they are enlisting outside help.
Gloria Sweetlove, president of the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, said she showed up at the town meeting to offer support, and to marshall resources.
Mumpower, for his part, is dismissive of Mason’s leaders, telling the Lookout he doesn’t think officials even really know how to run the town, especially with so much investment heading their way. Unlike the white officials, it seems, who ran the town into the ground with no state interference whatsoever. The entire report is frustrating but is well worth your time.