Phillip Beard, second from left, leads the meeting of the Buford City Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. It was the first commission meeting since an explosive tape surfaced of now-former city schools superintendent Geye Hamby using the n-word. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Buford leader muddies water on his connection to racist recording

Things quickly grew heated at Buford City Hall Tuesday night, as questions — and confusion — continued to swirl about longtime leader Phillip Beard’s ties to an explosive recording of a now-former employee’s racist tirade.

The meeting was the first for the city commission since a recording surfaced of a man, alleged to be then-schools superintendent Geye Hamby, repeatedly using the n-word during a rant about construction workers. Beard — the chairman of both Buford’s city commission and its school board — confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that his voice is heard on the same tape.

But Beard also suggested the recording, which was filed as part of an employment discrimination lawsuit, may be doctored. 

And on Tuesday, he seemed to be reversing course altogether.

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During a tense, public-comment-period exchange with Gwinnett NAACP president Penny Poole, Beard turned to Rev. Avery Headd for help. Headd is the senior pastor at Buford’s Poplar Hills Baptist Church.

Beard pointed out that the pastor had had the tape in question “a year ago,” and that they’d spoken about it last week.

“Sir, did I ask you, ‘Was my voice on that tape?’” Beard said Tuesday.

“Yes you did,” Headd replied from the audience.

Beard: “What’d you tell me?”

Headd: “I couldn’t recognize it as your voice.” 

The Buford City Schools superintendent stepped down after a racial lawsuit was filed.

Later, Headd confirmed to the AJC that a copy of the recording containing Hamby’s purported tirade had been sent to his church anonymously. He said he spoke with news organizations and friends in the legal field about what to do with the tape, but had nothing to do with the one that ultimately surfaced in the federal lawsuit filed in June by former schools employee Mary Ingram. 

Headd said he wasn’t supporting Beard’s theory about spliced tapes, just that he couldn’t say definitively if it was Beard’s voice on the recording.

Beard was not available for comment following the meeting. The voice he previously identified as his doesn’t use racial slurs in the audio but doesn’t object to them either.

Hamby resigned days after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first wrote about the controversial tapes.  He had been superintendent since 2006. 

“(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) – shoot that (expletive) if they let me,” the person identified as Hamby can be heard saying. The person speaking repeatedly refers to blacks as “deadbeat (n-word).”

Ingram was at Tuesday’s meeting with a handful of supporters but did not speak during the public comment period.  Poole, the Gwinnett NAACP president, spoke at length.

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At one point, Beard addressed her criticism of Buford’s leadership and its elections by listing a handful of former African-American city leaders. 

“They had an opportunity to run, the community had an opportunity to run, it’s not us,” Beard said. “We don’t get out and solicit votes for nobody. They got to work to get here themselves.”

“And I welcome one,” Beard continued. “You know, if the the community could put one back in…

“Put one what back in?” Poole interrupted. “Put one of what back in?” 

“Put a representative of the black community, of the African-American community,” Beard responded.

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