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A small town in West Tennessee has a mayor’s race many outsiders are watching

Blake Farmer

The small West Tennessee town that nearly lost its ability to govern its own finances will soon elect its next mayor.

Four candidates are campaigning to lead Mason in what has become an increasingly heated mayoral race, which has seen one lawsuit and accusations of vandalism.

One of the most notable candidates is current Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers, who defended Mason in the media when news of a potential financial takeover by State Comptroller Jason Mumford broke in March.

“She, like each of the candidates, [is] focused on two things. One is finally pulling Mason out of the financial hole that it’s in,” Tennessee Lookoutsenior reporter Anita Wadhwani said on Tuesday’s episode ofThis Is Nashville.

In May, the state comptroller’s office placed Mason under a corrective action plan to clear the town’s debt caused by previous town leaders’ financial mismanagement. The plan allowed Mason to avoid a financial takeover.

“Rivers is focused on steering Mason through to the end of that financial oversight, as well as looking to the future about how Mason might prosper and grow,” said Wadhwani. She added that Rivers is discussing a potential worker training program with representatives from the neighboring Ford Motor plant that’s currently under construction.

Rivers also believes that she was the target of vandalism after one of her campaign signs was destroyed and another disappeared.

Current Mayor Emmit Gooden is also campaigning for his re-election.

“Mayor Gooden is not as out-front as someone like the vice mayor who’s been on national TV and really outspoken. He says he’s been really hard at work behind the scenes to get his town back on financial track,” Wadhwani said. “He’s concerned that all the work that he’s put into … balancing the books and talking with CPAs may be jeopardized if there is a change in leadership.”

Another current town leader in the race is alderman Eddie Naeman. He has owned a variety of businesses in Mason, including a convenience store and gas station.

“He wants to make the town much more business-friendly. He wants to make it easier to get a business license. He thinks that’s a very vital next step if Mason is going to attract the businesses that want to move to the area because of the Ford development,” Wadhwani said.

The fourth candidate is Thomas “T.B.” Burrell, but there are questions about if his name will even appear on the ballot.

Burrell, a farmer, owns 400 acres outside of the Mason’s town limits. He’s currently renting an RV in Mason, but the Tipton County Election Commission disqualified him from the mayoral race because he did not meet the six-month residency requirement. Burrell is currently appealing the decision.

“He’s a long-time leader of the Black Farmers Association, and he sees his disqualification in historic Black exclusion from the election process terms,” Wadhwani said.

The mayoral race will likely be close, considering that Mayor Gooden won the 2018 election by a margin of 45 votes. Regardless, the next mayor will have the opportunity to shape the outcome of Mason’s long-standing financial woes and lead the town that’s expected to grow as construction on the neighboring Ford Motor plant continues.

Anna Gallegos-Cannon is a native Texan who bounced around the United States before landing in Nashville in 2018. Prior to joining WPLN, Anna was a digital producer for The Tennessean. She previously worked as a copy editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a reporter for The Oakland Tribune, and hockey writer for Sports Illustrated, among other media jobs. When she isn’t working in the news, Anna is attempting to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, playing fetch with her dog Radar, or watching hockey.
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