CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s Democrat-majority Executive Council on Wednesday rejected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to a seat on the state Board of Education, with one councilor saying the governor’s pick of an African American was “tokenism.”
The council, which approves state government appointments, voted 3-2 against Ryan Terrell along party lines, with Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat, saying that Terrell “has absolutely no qualifications for the job.”
If approved, he would have been the only person of color on the panel.
Terrell, 29, of Nashua, is a systems analyst and is currently project manager for Evolve Salon Systems, a salon professional beauty product distributor responsible for all digital and email marketing campaigns. He grew up in New Orleans and has lived in New Hampshire since 2011.
He said he became interested in educational issues starting with his participation in an education conference in Manchester last year and follow-up conversations with Board of Education Chair Andrew Cline, during which he learned about an opening on the board.
“I was interested in figuring out how do we improve the system,” Terrell said.
Volinsky had a chance to speak with Terrell before Wednesday. He called him “a nice, young guy who would like to contribute to the state,” but added that Terrell, who’s lived in four different communities in New Hampshire, never sought to participate in any public, charter or private school functions, nor has he been on a school board or PTA. He said when he asked Terrell about topics such as special education funding or home schooling, “he was completely without any understanding” of them.
“This is an exceedingly inappropriate and demeaning appointment to a very important board, and I can only vote against it,” said Volinsky, who is running for governor.
Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Democrat from Nashua, echoed Volinsky’s concerns. She also said if Terrell wasn’t confirmed, she had the names of “three people of color” qualified for the board.
Sununu and Republican Councilor Ted Gatsas of Manchester spoke in favor of Terrell. Sununu said Terrell was “expert” with efficiencies and that he would bring a diverse background to the board.
“We’re talking about an individual whose school was completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, who then had to go to a charter school during his middle school years,” Sununu said, adding, “this position does not call for some expert and insider in education.”
Sununu said he was shocked by the opposition and called it a missed opportunity.
Volinsky responded, “I won’t engage in the tokenism that apparently you’re willing to engage in.”
Terrell, who was listening in on the meeting conducted by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic, said he was “very taken aback” and disappointed in Volinsky’s comments.
Terrell said he had to travel a lot for his work so didn’t have time to get involved before.
“The time constraints around me growing my career as a young professional didn’t give me the opportunity to serve in the way he had hoped that I served prior to this point,” he said. “And I told him that on the call.”
Sununu’s spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, later said in a statement: “Now, more than ever, we must celebrate and empower individuals from different backgrounds with different perspectives to serve in state government.”
Rogers Johnson, president of the Seacoast NAACP, said: “He’s a systems analyst, which means he’s pretty adept at looking at organizations and figuring out what’s wrong, what’s right, something that’s probably sorely needed in education, wouldn’t you think?”
He said the council decided to turn away a black person “in this day and age, when we should have learned from the recent events that just transpired, that perhaps we need to all come together, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, not as liberals, not as conservatives, but as people from the Granite State who want to do better for the people in the state. And what did they do? They made a choice based on politics for a person who is obviously qualified.”
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