Majority of Sununu's diversity council quits, citing 'divisive concepts' law

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Jun. 29—Ten people — more than half the members — on Gov. Chris Sununu's Diversity and Inclusion advisory council announced their resignations Tuesday, citing the governor's signing of legislation that includes a provision banning the teaching of divisive racial concepts.

Among the 10 were:

* Dottie Morris, Keene State College diversity and equity leader;

* Maria Devlin, president and chief executive of Families in Transition;

* State Rep. Jim Maggiore, D-North Hampton;

* Salman Malik, a leader in the southern New Hampshire Islamic community;

* Cheshire County Sheriff Eliezer Rivera;

* Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU-New Hampshire.

"Governor, we feel obligated to inform you that — contrary to your recent public statements — systemic racism does in fact exist here in New Hampshire," the group said in a letter dated Tuesday.

They noted that nearly all those remaining on the Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion are members of Sununu's administration.

Sununu created the Council in 2017 in the face of racially charged incidents in Durham and Claremont. The Claremont incident involved allegations of an attempted lynching of an 8-year-old boy.

In a statement, Sununu accused the American Civil Liberties Union of inserting politics into his efforts to address race and discrimination in the state.

"These politically-charged actions will not deter the Council from advancing the good work they've accomplished and help move forward New Hampshire's efforts around messaging, training programs and diversity in the workplace," Sununu said.

Legislation to address "divisive concepts" became a highly charged, polarizing issue this year in Concord.

Original legislation in the New Hampshire House would have banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory and other "divisive concepts." Such theories, critics said, elevate one race over another and characterize the United States and Whites as inherently racist.

Efforts to ban such classroom and workplace discussions drew the ire of a broad swath of the state, and Sununu threatened to veto the legislation if it reached his desk.

The Senate and House eventually settled on a version and attached it to a budget bill rider, which Sununu signed earlier this month. The revised language was added to the state's anti-discrimination law, which includes penalties for violations, something the initial legislation did not.

In their letter, the 10 resigning members said they had continuously worked to deliver their findings to Sununu. His disregard of their work means they can no longer fulfill their duties, they wrote.

Also resigning were Sharon Harris, owner of Partnered Success; James Morse, superintendent of the Oyster River Cooperative School District; Pawn Nitichan, executive director of City Year New Hampshire; and Allyson Ryder, a Carsey Fellow at the University of New Hampshire.

Sununu's office said the advisory council was going through a transition with the death in November of its first chairman, Rogers Johnson, and several were contemplating leaving the council. Sununu said many people are willing to join, and his administration has started to fill the vacancies.

The office did not offer any names.

Sununu's office distributed comments from the Advisory Council's current chair, Ahni Malachi, the executive director of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.

Malachi said the legislation signed by Sununu jettisoned the term "divisive concepts," and the new law will not limit conversations about diversity and inclusion.

"It saddens me that Council members feel so strongly as to relinquish their seats at the table of discussion and ideas," Malachi said.

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