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Buford schools chief resigns after racist rant; furor grows to ensnare longtime city leader

Culminating a week of turmoil for the city of Buford and its school system, embattled superintendent Geye Hamby resigned Friday after an audio recording emerged in which he allegedly used racial slurs repeatedly. 

And the controversy grew to include the chairman of Buford’s school board, who has also been head of its city commission for more than four decades.

New court papers say Phillip Beard appears to be the person with whom Hamby was speaking during his racist rant.

Beard did not return multiple calls seeking comment. An AJC reporter left messages for Beard on Friday at City Hall and at his home.

Hamby was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the contents of the audio recordings, in which the person said to be Hamby refers to African-Americans as “deadbeat n-word” and even spoke of wanting to kill black construction workers who had angered him.

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“My sincere apologies for any actions that may have created adversity for this community and the Buford School District,” Hamby wrote in a short resignation letter to the school board. “Thank you for your many years of tremendous support and leadership.”

Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby submitted this resignation letter on Aug. 24, 2018.

In Buford, a small community about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta near Lake Lanier, tensions were high on Friday. The school district’s administrative offices were on lockdown after a threat was called in against Hamby, law enforcement officials told The AJC.

It was a swift and remarkable fall for Hamby, 49. Since 2006, he had been superintendent of the highly regarded system, which has four schools and about 4,600 students. His base salary of $308,000 made him one of the highest paid superintendents in the state.

“His resignation is a step in the right direction,” said Atlanta lawyer Ed Buckley, who brought the race discrimination discrimination suit against Hamby and the school system, which ignited the chain of events. 

“I’m sure it will be good for the school district and the community.”

August 15, 2018 Atlanta - Mary Ingram, former employee with Buford City Schools, speaks as her attorney Edward Buckley looks at Buckley Beal law office on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC)

Buckley represents Mary Ingram, an African-American woman who was fired last year as a paraprofessional after working for the school system for more than 18 years.

In a court motion filed late Thursday, Buckley named Beard as being present while Hamby disparaged blacks workers.

“On information and belief, school board chair and city commissioner Phillip Beard was present when the audio recordings were made and his voice, which does not object to the racial slurs, can be heard on the recordings,” the motion said.

020204 BUFORD Buford City Commission chairman Phillip Beard. (KENT D. JOHNSON/staff) (Kent D. Johnson/AJC staff)

When asked Friday why he’s now saying Beard was the other person on the recording, Buckley said, “A number of people who know Mr. Beard have identified the other voice in the recording as his.”

Buckley added, “If Mr. Beard was present during this racist rant and failed to take action to remove Mr. Hamby as superintendent or inform other school board members, or the city commission for that matter, then he was derelict in his duty. It also indicates to me the school board was at least on notice with respect to its superintendent saying those things.”

The audio recordings, attached to the lawsuit, contain two conversations, each one just over a minute in duration. The person said to be Hamby repeatedly uses racial epithets when complaining about African-American temp workers at a construction site. At one point, the person said to be Hamby says, “(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) – shoot that (expletive) if they’d let me.”

Buckley has declined to disclose where he obtained the recordings or say when the conversations occurred.

On the recordings, the person identified as Beard says very little during the conversations. At one point, perhaps to explain why the construction workers were sitting around and not working, the person said to be Beard says, “They’s waiting on a fork lift.”

In the conversation, the person said to be Hamby appears to be talking on the phone to someone as a person next to him offers commentary. (The person recording this at the time has also not been identified.) During the phone call, the person said to be Hamby refers to a person named “Phillip.”

Buford school board, from left to right: Phillip Beard, Pat Pirkle, Daren Perkins, Beth Lancaster and Bruce Fricks. (Buford school district) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“And then they had a damn attitude when Phillip spoke to them,” the person said to be Hamby says on the phone call. “They told them: Get off the job site. But check it out for me. … I know Phillip told two of the (n-word) to get off the damn job site.”

The person identified as Beard then says, “I told em, I was going to send.” But he then gets cut off by the person said to be Hamby, who tells the person on the other end of the phone call, “Find out. I mean, (expletive) it, we, send a, I mean, (expletive), send send us a park-quality person. Don’t send us a deadbeat (n-word) from a temp service.”

Beard, 77, has chaired both the three-member city commission and five-member school board since 1975. According to published reports, both are unpaid positions.

In recent years, Beard has written glowing remarks about Hamby in his yearly evaluations.

“He is near perfect for our school district,” Beard wrote in Hamby’s 2017 assessment. This past January, Beard wrote of his then-superintendent, “Good leader — leads by example.”

August 15, 2018 Atlanta - Mary Ingram, former employee with Buford City Schools, speaks at Buckley Beal law office on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But Hamby was brought down by allegations included in the race discrimination lawsuit filed by Ingram, who contends she was fired after clashing with Hamby over the school district’s colors.

Ingram said Hamby targeted her for termination because she attended school board and city commission meetings calling for the school system to add the color gold to its green and white color scheme. Gold was one of the colors from the city’s African-American school before the system was integrated in 1969.

In court filings, the school system has denied discriminating against Ingram because of her race. In a statement this week, Walt Britt, the attorney representing the school board, said Ingram “was terminated for cause and neglect of her duties.”

-Staff writers Tyler Estep and Jennifer Brett contributed to this story.

Listen to the recording:

Geye Hamby, the superintendent of Buford City Schools, is accused as part of a race discrimination lawsuit of using racist language and making a reference to killing black construction workers.

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