Editor’s note: Readers can find links to copies of letters from Zimmer Biomet and the county commissioners at the bottom of this story.
By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — In a stinging letter to the Kosciusko County Commissioners, Zimmer Biomet urged them to drop their interest in whether critical race theory is being taught locally, saying their actions are hurting the company’s ability to recruit workers.
The letter came ahead of a July 8 meeting hosted by the commissioners at which Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita spoke. He claims critical race theory is being inserted into the public school curriculum and is part of an overall effort to divide America.
In the letter dated June 30 and also sent to the mayor of Warsaw and other economic development leaders, Zimmer Biomet said they believe “recent and contemplated actions” by the commissioners “further jeopardize our ability to continue to effectively compete in today’s global environment.”
“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 letter was signed by Zimmer Biomet President and CEO Bryan C. Hansen and Chad Phipps, general counsel and board member of the Zimmer Biomet Foundation.
Interest in what was contained in a letter from Zimmer Biomet surfaced at the July 8 meeting at the Winona Heritage Room when former Kosciusko County Democratic Party Chair Brian Smith asked for details.
County Commissioner Brad Jackson responded by saying the Zimmer Biomet letter expressed the importance of being a welcoming community.
Copies of the letter were sought by Smith and two news outlets through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Zimmer Biomet also voiced concern that the commissioners were delving into other constitutional issues, saying those topics are “unnecessary and outside of your scope of responsibilities,” adding the initiatives are mostly symbolic “and have little practical impact, except for the contemplated CRT ban’s adverse effect on the business community.”
The letter went on to underscore the potential damage they believe is being caused by the commissioners.
“As the largest business and employer in the county, Zimmer Biomet is extremely concerned that the imposition of, and the resulting negative publicity associated with, a CRT ban would directly and adversely impact our ability to attract, hire and retain world-class talent in Warsaw. As a leading corporation headquartered in this small community for over 90 years, the policy level actions and pronouncements by the Commissioners and other local governmental bodies have a direct impact on our talent agenda and opportunities. Attracting first-rate talent who will consider moving to our Warsaw site is already quite challenging, so the Commissioners should not compound this problem through unnecessary and highly controversial legislative actions,” the letter read.
The letter suggested investors are not pleased.
“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.
Tuesday’s release of the Zimmer Biomet letter coincided with the release of a statement from the commissioners about the Zimmer Biomet letter.
In their letter, the commissioners (Jackson, Bob Conley and Cary Groninger) defended their actions and their concerns with CRT.
The commissioners’ letter does not suggest the commissioners will drop their interest in CRT even though they admitted it’s beyond their jurisdiction.
“As the executive and legislative body of the county, our interest in this community is not limited to … pure business and economic considerations as your letter suggests,” the letter said. “They are not the sole considerations in the promotion of a thriving, fair, just, healthy and unified community.”
The commissioners’ letter then includes a long definition of CRT and adds, “We do not believe that it is either factual or healthy to teach our children that law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites, nonwhites and especially African Americans.”
“Indeed, we believe that such ideology promotes unjustified conflict and does more to divide us than unite us,” the letter said.
Rokita’s visit and presentation came shortly after the commissioners announced they were looking into the controversial curriculum issue after they were asked to ban it from public schools. It’s one of several issues related to the U.S. Constitution that the commissioners have begun to show an interest in this year.
The county then announced plans to host a meeting in which Rokita could unveil his parents bill of rights, a 16-page guide intended to help parents learn more about their student’s curriculum.
While the commissioners were initially unclear about their intentions on what they might do about CRT, they said on July 8 that they have no plans to attempt to somehow ban elements of CRT in public classrooms.
In Rokita’s bill of rights, he describes CRT as an ideological construct that analyzes and interprets American history and government primarily through the narrow prism of race. Rokita claims elements of CRT are passed along in social-emotional learning, which is a common program in some local schools and is used to help students learn how to interact and appreciate different types of students.
Some of those lessons involve separating groups by race and then role-playing and discussing issues from a racial perspective. Critics argue it reinforces the role of “oppressors” and the “oppressed.”
Rokita contends in his “bill of rights” that Indiana schools have witnessed an influx of SEL model practices used to introduce “distorted theories and activities aimed at making students feel bad about themselves. These methods are impermissible, encourage unequal treatment of students under the law, and are misaligned with the educational policy goals established by the General Assembly.”