- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Most of the police force and several city officials quit their post in the tiny Missouri town of Parma last week after the city elected its first black mayor, leaving the mayor struggling to understand whether the mass resignation was tied to the divisive racial issues that have racked the state or the signs of a corruption ring.

Incoming Mayor Tyrus Byrd, who is eight months pregnant, had five of six police officers, the city collector and the official previously in charge of waste water management quit before she officially took office last week. The city officials cited “safety concerns” in their resignations.

As a result of the mass resignation, Ms. Byrd began discussing with the Parma City treasurer and lawyer her options for investigating the true reason for the departures — which some speculate could be race.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know what it is,” Ms. Byrd said in an interview with The Washington Times. “I would like to know that. I was told that the reason they resigned was safety issues. I was also told that the reason they resigned was that I didn’t come up and do a meet-and-greet with them.”

In January, Ms. Byrd, 40, took on incumbent Randall Ramsey, a white man who had overseen city operations for more than three decades, because she said the city was deteriorating under his watch. Mr. Ramsey lost the election by 38 votes to Ms. Byrd, who only spent a few hundred dollars on campaign materials and promised voters that she would work with them to collectively bringing change to the city administration.

Mr. Ramsey did not respond to media inquiry on his tenure as mayor or the investigation into potential corruption or wrongdoing.

Racial tension has flared up in Missouri after a white officer shot an unarmed black teenager last August in Ferguson. The incident sparked protests and riots as citizens pushed back against what they saw as police brutality and a broken justice system.

But several town residents told The Associated Press that they don’t believe the resignations are race-related.

Some of the officials who resigned cited safety issues — a rationale that trickled to Ms. Byrd through conversations with local reporters who spoke to Mr. Ramsey about the resignation letters.

But none of them spoke to Ms. Byrd directly or sent copies of the letters to her office, she said. They simply didn’t show up to work, prompting Mrs. Byrd to reach out to county officials for help policing the community.

Residents say that the mass resignations are no loss to Parma, given the community’s small size.

“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 with quitting because who needs six police for 740 people?” resident Martha Miller told a local CBS News affiliate.

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the mass resignation indicates the department has lost their faith in the city administration.

“When that many police officers resign, that’s a simultaneous resignation of hope,” he said. “Policing is an inherently dangerous job, and officers do not yield to threats. Most officers would rather go through a door unarmed, then work for a mayor that views their back as a target of opportunity.”

Indications that something was wrong surfaced in the days leading to Ms. Byrd’s swearing-in at a city board meeting.

She said she never received a call about the transition period from one mayor to another. So Ms. Byrd asked the city collector about that protocol when she went to a city office building to pay her water bill on April 13. The collector was unable to answer any of her questions even though the collector was privy to the agenda of the April 14 meeting, she said.

In the following days, she discovered that fewer than 30 percent of the city’s personnel would stay by her side and that she would have to seek help from the county’s law enforcement officials to mitigate the gap in the police department.

Police analysts suggested that Ms. Byrd fill those law enforcement gaps with the assistance of the county sheriff and also from the state police.

Concerns about the mass exodus prompted Ms. Byrd to meet with the city treasurer Monday to examine the city’s finances and bank statements to see if financial fraud was a factor. Ms. Byrd also intends to ask the federal government for assistance with the investigation.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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