The Select Board of Pembroke voted 3-2 Wednesday night to disband a diversity, equity and inclusion committee that had become a source of contention in the town since starting its work five months ago.

The 10-member committee held its first meeting in January 2022, according to minutes posted online. Its stated goals included facilitating discussions regarding diversity, equity and inclusion in the town and seeking out and suggesting opportunities, programs and activities that promote those goals in the community.

Opponents claimed having the committee went against the wishes of town voters and that its work could be done by a private group, while supporters said it was needed to help improve the town of 18,000 in Plymouth County. According to 2010 census data, Pembroke is more than 90 percent white.

Carly Levy, a member of the DEI committee, spoke before the board's vote. She said the group was on the precipice of making accomplishments and argued it's important the community looks to make itself more welcoming in the current national climate, pointing to the mass shootings the country is currently mourning.

"And I think that this is an opportunity for us to remind each other that diversity, equity and inclusion is not just about race," she said. "This is about everybody. This is about all differences. And so I think the work of this committee is important, especially at this time, right at this moment. Today is the annivesary of George Floyd's murder, so all of these things I think we need to look at in terms of the role of this committee."

The committee included representatives from the town's police, fire and school departments and public library, in addition to six residents. A slot for a Pembroke High School student had remained unfilled.

Tracy Marino, vice chair of the select board, originally voted for the committee. But she ended up voting against it Wednesday.

"I'm not opposed to such a group," she said. "I'm not even a hundred percent opposed to it here, but I'm concerned that there's not enough faith in it, I feel like, to be productive."

The vote followed a public comment hearing that at times grew heated and sometimes reflected the tone seen at school board meetings across the nation on issues surrounding critical race theory.

Steven Ciciotti, another select board member who voted to disband the committee, claimed the group's work could be done by a private entity.

"The question, the issue is, the really big contention that's happening is, is it the role of the government?" he said. "And the people have spoken many times on this. And each time they have spoken on it, the majority has grown and grown and grown."

But Rebecca Coletta, a member of the select board who voted in favor of keeping the committee, doesn't believe that explanation.

"I just think it comes down to not wanting to talk about race or LGBTQ issues," she said.

Coletta said the work must continue, even without the committee.

"We can't simply say government's role is to turn a blind eye to this," she said. "If that were the case, we wouldn't have the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act or Title IX. All I can say is I'm sad and I'm tired tonight."

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