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English Only Ordinance Sparks Tensions

Residents speak their mind on a controversial ordinance in Carroll County.

At a public hearing to discuss an ordinance to make English the official language of Carroll County government, order was maintained but tensions ran high as speakers both applauded and demonized the Board of Commissioners for its proposal.

“Everyone in this room has been inoculated against polio by law,” said Mike Stewart, “I didn’t like it then, but it was a proactive move. We didn’t have to wait to see what would happen.” Stewart said that other states spent tens of millions on translations and printing ballots in other languages.

“I can’t really control what happens in California or DC, but I can start things here in my backyard …Just because we don’t have a problem now doesn’t mean we need to wait around for one. We need to be proactive.”

But in a county where commissioners have asked state employees to attend a seminar on the state constitution led by a conservative Christian minister, made opening public meetings with prayer a priority, and adopted a resolution that proclaimed marriage between a man and a woman was the “foundation of healthy families and a future for America,” residents in opposition to the ordinance wondered what kind of message it would send.

“The symbolism in this ordinance is even more troubling given Carroll County’s reputation,” Roxanna Harlow testified.

“This is the opposite of global citizenship,” Harlow, an education professional, testified. “It makes it more difficult to create a more harmonious school environment … [more difficult] to be competitive and comfortable in a competitive marketplace.” 

Tuesday night’s hearing was a nearly standing-room-only event with a police presence and no shortage of strong emotions. Though the police were not needed, speakers did directly attack each other in their testimony.

In reference to Harlow’s comment about global citizenship, one Westminster resident retorted, “Last time I checked, I’m a citizen of the United States.”

The ordinance (attached) declares: “The English language is the official language of Carroll County Maryland.” It states that, unless otherwise required by federal or state law, no one has a right to “official or non-binding translation or explanation” of official actions.

It does not preclude officials from using other languages in some capacities, including teaching English, teaching other languages and in the interest of public health and safety.

The commissioners did not answer questions from residents or respond to comments during the hearing, but moved speakers along without pause. 

Resident Christopher Craig said the ordinance simply clarified which language government would use for official communications and that he saw that as reasonable.

Others argued that there were no instances in which residents were unable to get information in English, and that the ordinance was no more than political posturing. 

“I think this is an ordinance searching for a problem to solve … right now, we have no problem,” said John Carr. “As opposed to finding some divisive and arbitrary means of getting [Carroll County] into the Washington Post ... let’s make this a warm, welcoming kind of community.”

Buck Harmon December 14, 2012 at 02:25 PM
The Commissioners have never demonstrated the fact that a financial burden has ever been placed on the County. There are very simple and in expensive translation programs that work on almost any laptop...I would venture to say that the Carroll County Gov. already has this ability within it's own system...if not..why?
Marta Cruz December 14, 2012 at 03:16 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/science/31conversation.html?_r=0
Judith M. Smith December 15, 2012 at 02:22 PM
SThompson....you don't get it...that document you imagine to be presented...private dealings with things such as getting a permit would have to be translated by the person submitting the permit at their expense...However, if there were an issue covered by the Federal government, then an interpretor would be required--that is my understanding in the subtlety of "paying" for translators. It would be worthwhile for the County Attorney to provide some sort of definition on just when and how these matters would be needed...
josh December 15, 2012 at 11:50 PM
I do see where you're coming from, and here in MD it's not really as big of an issue, but in mexico bordering states alot of the government buildings have to hire translators because of the multitude of hispanics who don't yet understand english, this is one of the ways to make sure carroll county doesn't end up needing to spend funds on such things.
Buck Harmon December 16, 2012 at 12:38 AM
If the funds can improve the quality of life for human beings...spend them, far better than many other ways tax dollars are wasted by elected officials...

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