Parma fires destroy city hall, residence; Auditor’s office to investigate city finances

Friday, April 26, 2019
Smoke rises from the remains of the home of Tyus Byrd, the former mayor of Parma. The house on West Main Street in Parma was destroyed by a fire during the early morning hours Wednesday. The blaze is under investigation and is suspicious in nature, according to New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens.
Jill Bock/Standard Democrat

PARMA, Mo. — As authorities sift through the ashes of two buildings destroyed by early Wednesday morning fires, state officials intend to sift through the town’s financial records.

Authorities are describing the fire which destroyed Parma’s City Hall as arson. A second fire, which destroyed the home of the town’s former mayor, is being called suspicious.

A member of the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office spent Wednesday looking at both blazes which left portions of Main Street in the small New Madrid County community in ashes. Joining him in the investigation were officers from the New Madrid County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Patrol’s Drug and Crime Control Unit.

New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens said Wednesday he received a call just after midnight of a fire at the home of Tyus Byrd. Byrd, who had served as mayor of Parma for four years, lost her re-election effort earlier this month.

In addition to Parma’s Fire Department, fire personnel from Lilbourn and Malden fought the blaze at the residence. Stevens said no one was home at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported in firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze, that destroyed the home.

As the Lilbourn Fire Department left the site of the residential fire, just blocks away on Main Street, firefighters observed smoke coming from the small brick building which became home to the Parma City Hall several months ago.

Stevens said the fire at the city hall “was most definitely arson.” He said evidence found at the crime scene indicated the blaze was purposely set.

The fire at the Byrd residence was described as suspicious by the sheriff, who would not elaborate further on what was found at the scene. Investigation, Stevens added, is continuing.

Following the determination by officials of arson on Wednesday, Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway announced she will accept a request by the city of Parma to audit questionable financial activity.

 “When there are allegations of potential fraud or mismanagement, my public corruption team will investigate the concerns. That’s exactly what happened in Parma, where our investigation is going to result in an audit request by the city,” Galloway said in a news release. “Our independent review will take a close look at the finances of the city and determine the facts.”

The State Auditor’s office was contacted through the Whistleblower Hotline about concerns related to the city operations under the former mayor. After an investigation, the allegations were found to be credible, according to the auditor’s office.

Parma’s new mayor, Rufus Lee Williamson Jr., and city council member were sworn in Tuesday. Public officials in Parma are expected to formally make the request for the audit at a special meeting on Thursday.      

 In January, Galloway directed increased resources toward investigations of fraud and abuse in government in a newly created Public Corruption and Fraud Division within the State Auditor’s Office. This division, which includes dedicated auditors, investigators and attorneys, will be activated to conduct the audit in Parma. The division will work with law enforcement on any potential violations of law discovered in the course of the audit, according to Galloway.

Individuals can use the auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline to share information on allegations of improper government activity. Contact the State Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline by emailing moaudit@auditor.mo.gov or by calling 800-347-8597.

Concerns may also be submitted anonymously online at auditor.mo.gov/hotline.