A small city in Missouri caught national attention when roughly half of its employees resigned following the election of its first African-American female mayor.
Many news outlets and bloggers have speculated that racism and sexism drove the exodus in Parma, a city of about 700 near the Mississippi River; whereas several residents say other factors were at play.
Mayor Tyus Byrd, 40, who beat longtime incumbent Randall Ramsey, has not yet released a formal statement on the controversy, but did address it briefly after being sworn in last week.
“Moving forward, I’ll get with the board. I’ll speak here in a little bit,” she told KFVS-TV, “and we’ll talk and discuss those issues that have taken place today. And we’ll try to get things in order for the city.”
The local CBS affiliate reported that three full-time cops and two part-time cops — five of the city’s six officers — quit without notice. Several other officials, including the city attorney and city clerk, also resigned.
Nelvia Donaldson, an African-American alderman in Parma, thinks bigotry is behind the departures that followed Ramsey’s defeat, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I think it’s about being a woman and being black,” she told the paper. “He (Ramsey) thought he had it in the bag.”
Rich Medley, a former assistant police chief, on the other hand, said to the Post-Dispatch that he resigned out of fear that he would not be allowed to do his job properly.
He said the town’s officers had several run-ins with members of Byrd’s family.
“Rather than put my life in danger more than I do now on a daily basis, I decided to walk away,” Medley said.
Ramsey told KFVS-TV that the departures were over “safety concerns,” but none of the resignation letters have been made public.
Parma resident Martha Miller, who campaigned for Byrd, does not think the resignations have to do with race, but she disagrees with how they happened.
“I think it’s pretty dirty they all quit without giving her a chance. But I don’t think they hurt the town any by quitting, because who needs six police for 740 people,” she told KFVS-TV.
“There was absolutely no racism that had anything to do with this,” Barry Aycock, a white former alderman, said to The Associated Press. “We had an election, it’s over, and we’re all supporting the new mayor and moving forward.”
Lisa Kirk, 58, who owns a convenience store in Parma, was surprised that the town even had six people on its police force.
“There was never police around in town,” she told the wire service. “We have no idea where the six officers worked or who they are. If they did work, I don’t know where they were.”
Kirk said her shop has been burglarized nine times over the past decade.
One thing’s for sure: Byrd has attracted a lot of supporters on social media since the story broke.
Congrats to Tyrus Byrd. First Woman Mayor of Parma. Prayers to you and city of Parma Missouri 🙏 #parma
— Ateya (@Ateyaaa) April 20, 2015
— Daryl Joy Walters (@daryljwalters) April 20, 2015
Byrd could not be reached for comment.