2 city workers near planned Ford truck plant charged
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Two workers in a rural Tennessee town who resisted an attempted state takeover after Ford Motor Co. announced plans to build an electric truck factory nearby have been charged with theft of municipal funds and official misconduct, officials said Wednesday.
Reva Marshall, Mason’s former city finance officer, and Michele Scott, Mason’s human resources officer, were indicted by grand juries in two counties, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said in a statement. press and an investigation report.
Marshall and Scott were both accused of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in improper wages, benefits and reimbursements from Mason by submitting timesheets for far more hours than they actually worked, said officials. They also worked full-time for the Memphis-Shelby County schools system while also employed by Mason, receiving compensation from both entities for the same hours of work, officials said.
In a report released Wednesday, investigators also questioned tens of thousands of dollars in credit card transactions and refunds by city employees.
Marshall and Scott were charged in Tipton County, west Tennessee, where Mason is located, and Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Online court records did not indicate whether they had attorneys to speak on their behalf about the charges.
Mason’s mayor did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
The allegations are the latest in a series of financial troubles that have beset Mason, located about 40 miles northeast of Memphis. The state comptroller’s office said the city had experienced 20 years of financial mismanagement.
The 2020 census shows Mason’s population at around 1,330. But that number fell to less than 800 after a private prison closed.
The city’s current leadership is overwhelmingly black, but white leaders were in charge for many years during which the state said Mason’s affairs were mishandled. The city has seen investigations into accounting misconduct and irregularities, including one by the comptroller’s office cited in a 2016 report, when its leaders were mostly white. Several officials have resigned.
Last year, Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower asked Mason town leaders to relinquish their charter, pointing to financial mismanagement. After Mason voters refused to do so, Mumpower later said the state would take over his financial oversight.
News of the takeover attempt drew national attention as many questioned its timing, as Mason is near the site of a future $5.6 billion Ford electric pickup plant. The plant is expected to employ around 5,600 workers at the plant, and the construction will create thousands more jobs.
City leaders have filed a lawsuit — with the help of the NAACP — in hopes of stopping a complete takeover of its finances. Mason and the state then reached an agreement for reduced oversight of city finances.
“The Comptroller’s Office continues to exercise heightened oversight over the financial condition of the Town of Mason,” the press release said. “That includes making sure the city maintains a balanced budget; requiring the city to provide monthly financial records and reports to the Office of the Comptroller; and requiring the implementation of policies to respond to audit findings.
Construction began for the planned Ford plant in neighboring Haywood County. Officials say the plant, called BlueOval City, will boost West Tennessee’s economy. The plant is expected to attract small and large businesses to the area, including hotels, restaurants, healthcare facilities and plant suppliers. Real estate values could also rise.
Ford said he was not directly involved in Mason’s financial situation, but had reached out to state and local community leaders about it.