Iowa Named America’s Most Corrupt City, Again

Iowa, renowned as the Hawkeye State for its agriculture, caucuses, and expansive cornfields, surprisingly harbors one of America’s most corrupt cities, according to a recent report. Armstrong, a small town with a population of fewer than 1,000, earned the moniker “Chicago of the Great Plains” due to a series of scandals involving its mayor, police chief, city clerk, and others. This blog delves into how Armstrong evolved into Iowa’s corruption epicenter, examines the repercussions for residents and the state, and suggests preventive measures for the future.

The Genesis of Corruption in Armstrong

Corruption in Armstrong traces back to at least 2012 when city clerk Connie Thackery initiated the embezzlement of public funds for personal gain. Employing tactics such as inflating her salary, issuing unauthorized checks, and falsifying records, she pilfered over $100,000 over eight years. Thackery enlisted her daughter, a deputy clerk, and her son-in-law, the police chief, in a cover-up. The police chief, Craig Merrill, abused his authority by misusing city property, falsifying reports, and tampering with evidence.

Mayor Greg Buum was also complicit, approving Thackery’s fraudulent payments, accepting kickbacks, and neglecting his duties. Intimidation tactics were employed against city employees and council members who questioned the actions or sought to expose wrongdoing. The city council failed to oversee finances, overlooked red flags, and allowed the mayor and clerk to run the city as a personal fiefdom.

Consequences of Corruption

The corruption in Armstrong has inflicted profound damage on the city and its residents. Debts exceeding $1.5 million to entities like the IRS, state, and county have left city finances in disarray. Declining services and infrastructure result from a lack of funds and staff. The city’s reputation and morale suffer under public scrutiny and ridicule from the media and citizens.

Trust in local government and law enforcement has eroded, leaving residents feeling betrayed and angry. Taxes and fees were misused, and reports indicate harassment or threats against those who spoke out. A climate of fear and silence prevails as residents fear retaliation or reprisal for cooperating with authorities.

The corruption’s ripple effects extend beyond Armstrong, tarnishing Iowa’s image and credibility. Weaknesses in municipal governance laws and regulations, coupled with insufficient oversight and enforcement, are exposed. Questions about citizen and media responsibility in demanding transparency and good governance emerge.

Preventing Future Corruption

To prevent similar cases, measures must be taken:

  1. Strengthen Oversight: Enhance state and county oversight of municipal finances, ensuring findings are implemented.
  2. Training and Certification: Improve training for municipal officials, focusing on accounting, ethics, and legal compliance.
  3. Diversity in Representation: Increase diversity in city council and staff to better reflect the community.
  4. Citizen Engagement: Encourage citizen and media participation in local governance and law enforcement.
  5. Code of Conduct and Whistleblower Policy: Establish and enforce a code of conduct and whistleblower policy for officials and employees.
  6. Prosecution and Recovery: Prosecute corrupt officials, recover misused funds, and restore stolen assets.


The corruption in Armstrong serves as a stark reminder of the importance of good governance, accountability, and transparency in local government and law enforcement. It highlights the pivotal role of citizens and the media in demanding and ensuring these principles. Through collaborative efforts, corruption can be prevented, trust in democracy restored, and the lessons learned from Armstrong applied to strengthen the foundations of our communities.

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