Monday, April 27, 2015

After rural Mo. town elects African American mayor, several top employees, all white, quit

Tyus Byrd, an African American woman, was sworn in as mayor of Parma, Mo., on April 14. Since then, the town of 675 has seen a series of resignations of city employees, all of them white. Byrd said she hasn't seen any resignation letters, but confirmed that since she took office the police chief, two police officers, the head of the wastewater department and the city clerk/court clerk/city collector have failed to show up for work, Noreen Hyslop reports for The Daily Statesman of Dexter, in Stoddard County.

Former mayor Randall Ramsey, whom Byrd beat by a count of 122 to 84 votes, had been in office for 37 years, from 1962 to 1974 and again from 1991 to the recent election, Hyslop writes. Parma, which has lost 21 percent of its population since 2000, is 66 percent white and 30 percent African American.

Byrd said that she never said she would clean house at City Hall if elected, and was at a loss as to why the employees quit, Stephen Deere reports in a longer story for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Locals have cited "a variety of reasons for the departures. Hurt feelings. Worries about being fired. Loyalty to the former mayor, who had been in power for much of the past half-century." (P-D map)

Some residents credit Ramsey with cleaning up a city by using federal grants to beef up the police force and fight a rise in crime, Deere writes. Others say police brutality—especially against African American residents—increased during his tenure.

Ramsey, who blamed losing the election on a strong showing from African American residents, told Deere that the employees probably quit because they assumed Byrd would enjoy the power of being able to fire them: "I feel like they didn’t want to hang around and get fired." Byrd said she never even spoke with employees and was surprised when she was told by reporters that they quit over safety concerns, citing previous run-ins with Byrd's relatives. (Read more)

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