A Carrollton resident on Monday called for the resignation of Mayor Pro Tem Gerald Byrd over controversial comments he made on Facebook.
Barry Harwell, former golf coach at the University of West Georgia, addressed the Carrollton City Council during its meeting Monday night. He said he doesn’t think he has ever attended a City Council meeting and doesn’t subscribe to social media, but is “disgusted” by the current state of media.
“I don’t get political as I don’t think I’ve run for anything in my life, and I don’t subscribe to Facebook or Instagram or any of it. It doesn’t appeal to me,” Harwell said. “I grew up here and have lived here pretty much a great portion of my life. I’m comfortable being considered old school and conservative, but recently the paper and the media has become disgusting, in my opinion, with the inflammatory attacks coming from all sides. It’s not just from one entity.”
Byrd said on Facebook last month that “white man has and is destroying the world.” Byrd said he will not defend these comments and would like to see them stand as they are.
“I used to think Carrollton was a small-town community and that we were immune to this, but I think the most disturbing thing is that we are changing rapidly and we are, as I like to call it, getting down in the gutter with the rest of us,” Harwell said.
Bobby Gaines, managing member of Gaines Harbor Investments, said in a Facebook post on June 20 he was “appalled to read such comments by a community servant and business owner” and asked his friends to boycott Byrd's Institute of Imagination and end their support of Byrd. Gaines provided screenshots of the comments made by Byrd on Facebook.
“Hatred toward white people or people of any race is utterly disgusting,” Gaines said on Facebook. “As a father of three white children, one Latino daughter and one black son, I assure you we do not care about color in our home. Why can’t we all love one another for who we are? I have supported Mr. Byrd’s business in the past, but be assured, I will never in good conscience give another dollar to a man who has hatred and disgust for me or any member of my family.”
Council members Met Lane and Jim Watters said they did not initially see Byrd's comments but were later “surprised” after seeing screenshots.
“Mayor Pro Tem Byrd is a friend of mine and a respected leader of the community, so I was surprised to see his recent posts on social media,” Watters said.
On June 28, Byrd posted a photo on Facebook about black people being labeled as racist by whites for talking about white racism.
“The only way to get through this mess is to talk about it,” Byrd said on Facebook. “It truly exists and I experience it every day in my walk. It makes me so sad that it appears to be stronger now than ever. It must end. By talking about it, I am not perpetuating it.
“I am making those who commit it aware of what they are doing in hopes that it will end. Blacks and other minorities do not hold institutional and financial power to control any part of America except that we boycott, therefore we are not racists and cannot be.”
Harwell said Byrd has told the people of Carrollton he “has no interest in political office” and he “wants to serve the people of this town to the best of his ability every single day.” Harwell said he does not believe that to be true, and that he is “disappointed” in some of the other council members for not openly discussing the situation.
“I think we now know where your heart is,” Harwell said to Byrd. “I was not aware your ward includes [the University of] West Georgia, and I was employed there until recently. I can tell you your comments do not represent my views and a lot of the other employees there. I’m sure they represent some, there’s no question, and I do think racism will never end as long as we are entitled to our own personal opinions.
“Maybe you should spend your energy and surround yourself with people who treat you with all due respect. I’m disappointed in some of the other council members for not openly discussing this yourselves. I’m asking you to resign immediately, and I think many of your constituents would ask you to do the same.”
During council comments at Monday night’s meeting, Byrd said he has been “accused of everything from A to Z” as a councilman and business owner.
He also said some people who come into his business downtown do not believe him to be the owner and that they fear he might be selling drugs and question whether he built the business by himself.
He recalled a friend in his fourth grade math class who taught him about the word “prejudice” after his teacher sent him to the hallway. He said he asked his mother about the word because he had never heard it from her. He said she was “silent” after he had asked about this.
“I’m a hard-working man loved by many, I’m a man who has poured blood, sweat and tears for the community for nearly two decades and has labored to change the physical and economical landscape of this town to what it is today,” Byrd said.
Byrd said he sees a need for a platform to address issues that “plague our community” and the injustices he has seen ranging from the eradication of blight through incentives and tax abatements to economic development in poor areas of the city.