It was about a week after Tyus Byrd made history by being elected the first black mayor of this rural hamlet that things started getting weird.How many people live in Parma MO? 700. Yet---six police offiers. A town clerk. A wastewater manager. Eleven town employees in a wide sport on the road?
Just hours before her swearing in last Tuesday, she got a call from a local television reporter saying that four of Parma’s six police officers had quit. As had the town’s wastewater manager and clerk, who was supposed to administer the oath of office. Ms. Byrd, 40, wondered whether she would even be able to take office. The hamlet’s staff had been whittled to five from 11.
Racism meets corruption in heartland USA.Parma’s main strip looks like a bombed-out wild West town, with abandoned brick buildings — an awning collapsing from one of them — broken windows and piles of rubble inside. There are two convenience stores and a couple of farming-related businesses, but generally little commercial life. Things here faded over the past several decades, as did the surrounding area, as small-time farming was overtaken by industrial operations, hurting the economy, residents said.Many people here said they questioned whether the hamlet’s previous leadership — the mayor and police chief, mostly — did anything to make things better. Some said they had asked in vain for the hamlet to dig ditches to keep their yards from flooding. They complained about new police vehicles being purchased and driven out of town by officers who lived elsewhere. They questioned how the money was handled — the mayor admitted, for instance, to allowing town workers to borrow money from the town’s coffers. (He said that the money would later be taken out of their checks.)