Newly elected Parma Mayor Tyus Byrd, 40, said she is still learning the workings of the former administration after only two weeks on the job. Most of the police force and several officials resigned after the small town of Parma elected its first African American woman as mayor.
Photo by J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris

Were mysterious resignations in a small Missouri city about race?


The resignation of several officials in a small Missouri city remains shrouded in mystery a full week after they occurred.

Parma, which has roughly 700 residents, had just elected its first ever black, female mayor, Tyrus Byrd, when news broke that five of the city’s six police officers had resigned as well as the city attorney, city clerk and waste-water treatment manager, citing “safey concerns.”

“I think it was pretty dirty the way they all quit without giving her a chance.”
Martha Miller, resident of Parma

The 40-year-old new mayor, who was sworn in on April 14, pleaded ignorance. Telling the St. Louis Dispatch on Tuesday, “I don’t understand. I never said anything about cleaning house.”

However, according to the paper, an incident with local authorities and some of Byrd’s relatives might shed some light on the tensions between the two. Reportedly, a month before Byrd defeated incumbent Randall Ramsey, a 78-year-old white man who’d served as mayor for a total of 36 years, her cousin, Shatekia Thatch, and her cousin’s son, Christopher Ward, were stopped by officers and questioned about prank calls being made to the police station.

According to Rich Medley, a former assistant police chief, a Taser was used on Ward because he allegedly attempted to flee the scene. Thatch and Ward were eventually arrested and booked. The incident drew a predominately black crowd of curiosity seekers to the police station – which could only conjure memories of the outpouring of grief and anger in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri, and may have played a role in galvanizing support for Byrd.

Here’s what we do know for sure: Parma’s population is 60% white and 40% black. They only have 11 city employees, and are officially down eight due to the resignations. Byrd defeated Ramsey earlier this month by a margin of 122-84 votes. And authorities are largely remaining mum about their collective decision to step down.

The police department has not responded to multiple efforts from msnbc for comment.

Medley, however, did tell the Post-Dispatch that he resigned because he assumed his job was in jeopardy and saw Facebook messages celebrating Byrd’s victory that mentioned him by name“Rather than put my life in danger more than I do now on a daily basis, I decided to walk away,” he said. However, there is no evidence that Byrd has ever privately or publicly threatened to fire or replace local police.

“There was absolutely no racism that had anything to do with this.”
Barry Aycock, former Parma alderman
“I think it was pretty dirty the way they all quit without giving her a chance. But I don’t think they hurt the town any by quitting,” Martha Miller, a resident of Parma told local CBS affiliate KFVS, referencing the city’s minuscule population.

It also appears that the local residents are reluctant to embrace the racial backlash conspiracy theories.

“There was absolutely no racism that had anything to do with this,” Barry Aycock, a white former alderman in Parma, told the Associated Press. “We had an election, it’s over, and we’re all supporting the new mayor and moving forward.”

For her part, Byrd, who was born and raised in Parma, has said she was motivated to campaign for mayor after hearing complaints about how the city and police department were run. 

“The residents wanted to build trust again and work with the city officials to bring this city back together,” she told the Post-Dispatch.