The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 22, 2021 1:00 am

Kosciusko won't avoid race topic

Stance risks jobs, Zimmer told commissioners

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Kosciusko County Commissioners hit back at a major state employer this week – refusing a request to step away from controversial political topics such as critical race theory.

The commissioners sent a letter Tuesday to Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw in response to a June letter from Zimmer asking the panel to stop considering an ordinance opposing the controversial race teachings that suggest institutional bias continues.

“As the executive and legislative body of the county, our interest in this community is not limited to, nor should it be limited to, 'pure business and economic considerations' as your letter suggests,” the commissioners' response said.

The commissioners are Robert Conley, Bradford Jackson and Cary Groninger. Calls to several of the commissioners were not returned.

The letter continued to give a lengthy definition from Britannica describing critical race theory. It also said commissioners “do not believe that it is either factual or healthy to teach our children that 'the law and legal institutions in the United States (as they exist today) are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.' Indeed, we believe that such ideology promotes unjustified conflict and does more to divide us than unite us.”

The response came after hundreds of citizens attended a July 8 informational meeting the commissioners hosted that included Attorney General Todd Rokita discussing his parent bill of rights on critical race theory.

Worldwide orthopedics giant Zimmer Biomet – based in Warsaw since 1927 – sent a letter June 30 to the commissioners after word hit that commissioners were considering a possible ban on critical race theory teaching. No verbiage has been made public.

“We write to convey Zimmer Biomet's strong request that the Kosciusko County Board of Commissioners abandon further efforts to prepare and pass ordinances and declarations that negatively impact the business community's ability to attract and retain the best and brightest talent in the Warsaw area,” the letter said. “The recruitment challenges that local businesses currently face are well known and, as the largest employer in the county, Zimmer Biomet believes that your recent and contemplated actions further jeopardize our ability to continue to effectively compete in today's global environment.”

It said Zimmer has become increasingly concerned with the agenda and priorities of the commissioners, including a declaration that Kosciusko County is now both a Constitutional Rights Sanctuary and a Second Amendment Sanctuary.

That ordinance says all county entities shall “take due care at all times, whether during a state of emergency or otherwise, not to infringe upon the rights and liberties of the persons and individuals in Kosciusko County as stated” in the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions.

The commissioners also recently passed an ordinance on COVID-19 freedom and privacy issues.

The letter from Zimmer said a proposed ban on the use of critical race theory is “unnecessary and outside of your scope of responsibilities. ... We are hopeful that we can find common ground on pure business and economic considerations.”

Zimmer officials said they are the largest employer in the county and are “extremely concerned” that the negative publicity will adversely impact ability to attract, hire and retain world-class talent in Warsaw.

According to the company's most recent annual report, released in February, it employs about 20,000 worldwide, including about 10,000 in the United States. As of 2017, the number for Kosciusko employees was around 4,000 but no updated figure was available.

“Based on numerous discussions with our largest shareholders and other members of the investment community over the past year in particular, it is clearly evident that Zimmer Biomet could be penalized significantly in the market for being headquartered in and closely affiliated with a community whose local government has imposed a CRT ban,” the letter said.

The Kosciusko County Commissioners said in their letter to the company they are working hard to bring every available dollar to the county and promote a robust business environment.

“In addition to these economic efforts, we believe that this community can have open, constructive, and healthy discussions on sensitive issues,” it said.

“In conclusion, please rest assured that we, as sworn defenders of the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution, will always strive to promote a community consistent with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream that all would 'not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character' and that treats all men as created equal by their Creator. Please call us if you believe we can do anything consistent with these fundamental principles of fairness, justice, and equality to help you with recruitment or any other aspects of your business.”

According to Zimmer Biomet's proxy statement, which was issued to shareholders before this year's annual meeting in May, its 10-member board of directors includes three women, three ethnic minorities, four members born outside the U.S. and one LGBTQ member.

Also included under the proxy statement's “diversity, equity and inclusion” subhead is this: “We remain wholly committed to creating, supporting and celebrating diverse and equal workplaces and communities.”

Sherry Slater of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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