A Villa Rica councilman has resigned from his post after making an “inappropriate racial comment” to a city employee, according to the mayor.
Mayor Jeff Reese said former councilman Verland Best stepped down Tuesday. Best was first elected as the Ward 2 representative in 1994 and served in the position consecutively for seven terms.
“In a written letter that he presented to the city today, Councilman Best stated that he regretted making the comment and apologized to the employee and the city for his remarks,” Reese said Tuesday in a statement on Facebook. “Mr. Best had served on the City Council for over 23 years.”
According to a complaint submitted to the city, Best allegedly used the n-word and “redneck” in front of an employee when describing an interaction he had as coach for Villa Rica High School three decades ago.
Best coached football, baseball and golf at the school for nearly 20 years before his retirement in 2003. On Friday nights, he is the radio voice of the school’s football team, according to his bio on the city’s website.
MORE: About Verland Best
In the complaint, the employee, Lenise Lyons, said Best was conveying what a parent once said to him.
“This made me feel very uncomfortable,” Lyons wrote in the complaint, which was obtained Wednesday by AJC.com.
Best said in a letter of apology, read before the council at its meeting Tuesday, he was surprised and upset by the complaint.
“Had I known that anything I said had caused the person I was addressing any unease or had been taken offensively, I would have apologized immediately and, if permitted, I would have tried to make clear what I meant,” he said.
Best said he regretted directly quoting the parent rather than paraphrasing, but “focused more on the point I was making than the terminology of the comment. I thought, then and now, that the comment I quoted helped me to illustrate my point that we have come a very long way from 30 plus years ago and want to just continue going forward.”
Best said he never intended to disrespect or offend anyone or any group. He left the conversation with Lyons thinking it was a positive one.
In deciding to retire, Best said he wanted “to do whatever is necessary to make a bad situation better as soon as possible,” he said.
Reese indicated the Ward 2 seat will not be filled until March.
Best’s resignation comes two weeks after the release of an audio recording littered with racial epithets prompted former Buford schools superintendent Geye Hamby to step down.
Hamby was initially placed on administrative leave after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the contents of the audio recording, which is included in a federal lawsuit accusing Hamby of discrimination. On the recording, 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.
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. Phillip Beard acknowledged in an interview with The AJC that his is the second voice on the recording. Beard did not use any racial epithets during the conversation, but he didn’t speak against them either.
He claimed the recording was spliced together from different conversations.
On Tuesday, during the first commission meeting since the explosive recording surfaced, Beard seemed to reverse course altogether.
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.”
Beard was not available for comment following the meeting.
The fallout has left the Gwinnett County community reeling, with some calling for change in the city’s leadership.
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