July 1, 2004

Coalition calls for changes to Romney affirmative action plan

Yawu Miller

Civil rights activists converged on the State House Tuesday in a last-minute appeal asking Governor Mitt Romney to amend his proposed changes to the state’s affirmative action policy.

During the press conference Tuesday, State Rep. Ellen Storey (D-Amherst) thanked Romney for including provisions in his affirmative action plan for Vietnam war veterans and the disabled, before launching into her criticism.

“I would like to remind [Romney] that there are at least two other groups how should be included,” she said. “They are people of color and women. I’m sure this must be an oversight.”

While the affirmative action laws currently on the books include language mandating the hiring of women and people of color, the new guidelines drafted by a Romney administration committee does not, according to Storey and a coalition of activists, attorneys and other elected officials that gathered at the State House for a press conference Tuesday.

Romney spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter denied that the governor is seeking to weaken the state’s affirmative action laws.

“The governor has had a strong commitment to affirmative action,” she said, noting that one-third of new hires in the executive branch have been people of color.

But speakers at the press conference said Romney’s handling of the affirmative action revisions has given them little confidence in his commitment to diversity.

Governor Romney’s changes to the state’s 43-year-old affirmative action policy initially received little notice when his administration announced them on Bunker Hill day last year. The Banner was not notified of the announcement.

Activists criticized the administration for making the changes without community input, eventually persuading the governor to rescind his Executive Order 452, which they argued gutted the state’s affirmative action policies.

The Romney administration then convened a committee to review the proposed changes. While a draft of the committee’s recommendations has been circulating since March, members of the Massachusetts Alliance to Save Affirmative Action have criticized the Romney administration for failing to seek public input on the draft.

The administration scheduled three public hearings, but apparently did little to publicize them. Attendance at none of the hearings amounted to more than 25 people.

“This has not been an open process,” said Julie Patiño, an attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. “The community had to inject itself into the process. Nobody would know about this if it weren’t for us.”

In contrast, the Mass. Legislative Black Caucus’ hearing on the draft last month brought more than 250 people to Roxbury Community College.

At the RCC hearing, activists criticized the order for the omission of women and people of color from the plan and a lack of provisions for enforcement, criticisms that were echoed Tuesday.

“It’s been over a year now,” noted Horace Small, who heads the Massachusetts Alliance to Save Affirmative Action. “Now what we have is a 47-page document in which a lot of trees died for nothing.”

The Romney administration was scheduled to close the period for public comment on the proposed affirmative action hearing by June 24.

But committee member Leonard Alkins says the document is nowhere near ready.

“I’m in no rush to put out a document by a certain date,” he said. “I think it behooves us to work to have the strongest possible affirmative action document in the Commonwealth. I think the majority of the people on the committee recognize that haste makes waste.”

Caucus members presented the Diversity Advisory Council a copy of a letter sent to the governor outlining specific recommended changes to the draft document. Romney has not yet responded to the letter, hand delivered on June 16.

St. Peter said Romney has set no firm time line for the new guidelines.

“We’re currently awaiting the recommendations from the Diversity Advisory Council,” she told the Banner. “They’re going through the information they received at the public forums.”



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