Accusations of racism dominate council meeting over nominations of Edwards, Terrell

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Ryan Terrell, Gov. Sununu’s nominee for the State Board of Education. File Photo


CONCORD, NH – Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he is holding out hope for reconsideration for his nominee Ryan Terrell to the state Board of Education, while Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli lashed out over a letter of withdrawal from another of the governor’s nominees of color, Eddie Edwards, saying she is not a racist.

The Executive Council met remotely by phone on Wednesday while councilors discussed the options of meeting in person, particularly to hold public hearings on nominees, such as the upcoming nominee Scott Mason to be the executive director to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Edwards, a 2018 Republican candidate for Congress from District 1, sent a letter to Sununu charging the Democratic majority of the council, particularly Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, a candidate for governor, with “structural political racism.”

Pignatelli, D-Nashua, said she did not get a copy of the letter, but saw a copy in the press.

“But since I am being charged with ‘racism’ I want it known that nothing is further from the truth. This is similar to the charge I heard when I could not support your nomination governor of Mr. Terrell to the state Board of Education,” Pignatelli said.

“I didn’t think the gentleman had the needed qualifications. It was as simple as that.”

Pignatelli asked Sununu about recommendations she made of qualified black women.

“I did recommend to you, Governor Sununu, two highly qualified black women. I understand another woman of color has applied and she seemed qualified as well … Governor, could you please give us an update of how you are coming along with vetting these candidates?”

Sununu said he had not pursued those candidates and is hopeful of reversing the 3-2 vote against Terrell, a 29-year-old digital specialist, two weeks ago.

“I haven’t proceeded down that path of filling that nomination,” Sununu said. “I am still hopeful that we could bring back Mr. Terrell some time down the road and there would be an opportunity for reconsideration.”

Pignatelli said she would have been glad to have recommended a replacement to Helen Honorow from her district who had maxed out on her term on the Board of Education, but Sununu did not reach out to her for advice.

Volinsky also said Edwards and Terrell were not qualified for the positions, and Pignatelli and Councilor Michael Cryans, D-Hanover, also voted against Terrell two weeks ago. Voting in favor of Terrell were Republican Councilors Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, and Russell Prescott, R-Kingston.

Pignatelli said she did not know whether Sununu or Edwards is playing politics with the letter of withdrawal but it seemed to target Volinsky, who is running for governor.

She called it “pure politics of a really nasty sort. We can do better than this, can’t we?”

Gatsas asked Pignatelli if her potential candidates are Democrats.

Pignatelli said she did not know and that over the years she has approved of candidates of all political parties.

“Just asking,” said Gatsas.

Eddie Edwards. File photo

In his withdrawal letter, Edwards said: “What is appalling and indefensible is that Councilors Volinsky, Pignatelli and Cryans voted to confirm, within the last 12 months, a white nominee without experience and expertise.”

Edwards detailed his educational and work experience, that included serving as a police chief and director of the state Division of Liquor Enforcement.

“However, when it came to me, not one of these councilors would vote with Councilors Gatsas and Prescott to schedule a confirmation hearing in any format over the last 105 days.

“I’m not sure if there has ever been a better example of structural political racism. This is textbook discrimination; delaying, redefining, denying, moving the goal post or using a different set of standards,” Edwards wrote.

He said no unqualified person should ever be appointed to any position based upon their ethnicity or race.

“Equally true, no elected official should use implicit bias to disqualify a qualified person. We too easily view this as just politics, its more than just politics…

“Black people, like me, who have chosen to walk in the valley of conservative personal beliefs are frequently attacked, marginalized and devalued as, ‘Tokens, Coons, Oreos, Uncle Toms and Sellouts.’ I have personally been singled out as ‘not one of our blacks,’” Edwards wrote.

Volinsky Apology

Volinsky released a statement in response to criticism from Black Lives Matter Manchester apologizing.

“I acknowledge that I don’t have the experience of a Black person. I apologize for calling Eddie Edwards and Ryan Terrell unqualified and failing to acknowledge that there is a different context to calling Frank Edelblut, Michael Vose, Peter Kujawski unqualified.

“There is a long history of Black people who have been unfairly dismissed as ‘unqualified.’ I failed to take that context into account when opposing these nominees. I look forward to engaging in honest and candid dialogue with Black Lives Matter Manchester and take to heart their criticisms about my words. My sincere desire is to bring together groups that have not had candid conversations. I am willing to do the hard work which includes a willingness to engage in deep introspection,” Volinsky said.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky.

The Council’s three and a half-hour meeting focused on updates from department heads on how they were faring through the pandemic. The retirement of Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara July 4 was also announced.

Lindsey Courtney, interim executive director of the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification, was confirmed to the term after Edwards withdrew his nomination for that position on Tuesday.

Public Hearings

The concern over how to hold public hearings on nominees was discussed. Sununu nominated Edwards in March and the Council failed to schedule a public hearing on his nomination for 105 days before he withdrew.

Pignatelli said holding a public hearing over the phone or on ZOOM does not give her the context and understanding of candidate responses to questions and public comment and does not replace the real thing.

Volinsky asked the governor to help him find a venue for public hearings and the governor agreed, saying he would get staff to find a location that is either indoors or outdoors to hold future public hearings.