I met Herb in 1981 while campaigning for a seat on the Richmond County Board of Education. Herb was a candidate as well. I found Herb to be decidedly witty and candid. To this date, I have never met another person like him.
ANOTHER SCHOOL board member, the Hon. B.J. Annis – an outspoken fiscal conservative who aided in my election to the school board – had apprised me that Herb Beckham likely would get elected and be a key player in our catalyst for change. B.J. was the converter catalyst who kept the sparks for new leadership ignited until Herb and I joined her on the board.
The Hon. Thales Elliott and I met on the campaign trail. His commitment to getting more blacks in key leadership positions made him a key visionary for the change to come. In other words, without Annis’ and Elliot’s differing views, yet unyielding commitment to change, Herb and I never would have been able to get the historical votes needed to transition the leadership at the school board. Annis and Elliott were the clues that enabled the needed votes to stick.
During the first year of our terms on the board, Herb and I bonded and became friends. We trusted each other. We golfed, played basketball and politicked together. His free-throw and long-range shooting was absolutely, unbelievably accurate. Flick the wrist and through the nets. Amazing!
He used to call me “Pal” or by his affectionate nickname “Alfikelo.” “I must admit,” I told Herb, “‘Alfikelo’ sounds a bit narcotic to me.” Herb was unfazed, and I embraced it. I nicknamed him “Herbert LeRoy,” and he embraced it as well.
Much ado has been made about the so-called deal to oust then-Superintendent William G. Oellerich and my election as president of the Richmond County Board of Education. The more meaningful facts that benefitted the school system seems to almost always be absent from the stories.
One significant omission is the fact that Herb Beckham was elected vice-president. He accepted the nomination because I urged him to do so. Herb had no aspirations for the position. I convinced Herb I would need his help repairing the earthquake-like shake-up that would affect the system upon the superintendent’s contract not being renewed, and calming the shock waves that would permeate throughout the media and the community over my election as
the first black president of the board.
ADDITIONALLY FORGOTTEN is the fact that Robert Walls was appointed interim superintendent. Walls and Board Attorney Pete Fletcher discovered and disclosed to the school board that we were operating AT a $5.6 million deficit.
Believing the public has a right to know, the Hasan-Beckham administration disclosed the details of the deficit to the public. The deficit was a clear violation of Georgia law. The state of Georgia express-mailed the board a sizzling letter: Solve the deficit or be taken over by the state Board of Education.
With the legal parameters outlined by Fletcher, the Hasan-Beckham administration went to work resolving the deficit. The board closed and consolidated schools; cut and consolidated personnel positions; did not fill many positions held by retirees; and cut fat where ever we found it. The most glaring highlight pointing to the fiscally responsible actions by the board was Herb’s idea to put the schools system’s bank and investment accounts out for bids.
The former Georgia Railroad Bank held most of the board’s accounts, and was charging the board significant fees to do so. The board put the accounts out for bid. Ironically, the Georgia Railroad Bank won the bid for the payroll account, which was in excess of $15 million. The bank paid the board handsomely for the account they previously charged us for.
Changing the banking and investment policies netted the board more that $1.3 million profit during the Hasan-Beckham term. The board’s overall financial picture changed from a $5.6 million deficit to a more that $2 million reserve by the end of our two-year terms as president and vice-president.
I AM HONORED to have had Herb as a friend and vice-president during probably two of the most tumultuous years in the history of the Richmond County Board of Education. Herb and I did not get to interact much the past 15 years or so. However, I can truly say that whenever our paths crossed and we commented on each other’s progressions, we were of like minds. Our destinies remained tied together. And that is just fine by me.
God bless you, Herb – from your pal “Alfikelo.”
(The writer, an Augusta real-estate agent, ran for the Richmond County Board of Education in 2006 and the Georgia House of Representatives in 2008.)