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Proposed English Language Ordinance Goes to Public Hearing

Carroll County residents will have a chance to weigh in on Commissioner Shoemaker's proposed ordinance that would make English the official language of county government.

Carroll County Commissioners voted on Thursday to hold a public hearing for a proposed ordinance that would make English the official language of county government.  A date for the public hearing has not yet been set.

The comissioners voted 4-0 to move the ordinance to a public hearing. Commissioner Robin Bartlett-Frazier was not present at the meeting. 

Commissioner Haven Shoemaker presented the proposed ordinance to commissioners, saying that "this isn't a radical motion." 

According to Shoemaker, 31 states and two Maryland counties (Frederick and Queen Anne's) have passed similar legislation. 

"It doesn’t single out any segment of the population, it merely says that for the purpose of Carroll County government, English is the official language," Shoemaker said. "It doesn’t preclude people or businesses from using any language they want. It doesn’t preclude emergency services to folks who can’t speak English."

Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations for Pro English, a Virginia-based advocacy organization, gave a presentation in support of the ordinance. 

"Official English simply makes English the default langage in communications and business. It will enable the county to more effectively enforce policy," Bibby said. "Contrary to what opponents claim, it doesn’t mean 'English only.' It means for the county to act officially or with legal authority, it must act in English.

Commissioner Doug Howard said he's concerned that no standard of English has been noted 

"This board has historically not been vague," Howard said.

Richard Rothschild said he supports the ordinance and believes that defining an official language promotes unity.

"When you have a common language in a country, it promotes national unity, it promotes quality of opportunity in business, it promotes equal opportunity for all," Rothschild said.

"This board welcomes people of all national origins to Carroll County but I believe that with rights come responsibilities and if any individuals want to come to Carroll County, Maryland, the U.S., they’re welcome but have a responsibility to learn our language so we have the unity of being one people," Rothschild said.

Westminster resident Rebecca Orenstein addressed the commissioners first in Spanish during the public comment portion of the meeting. She then translated her statement, suggesting that the ordinance is "stupid" and "bad for business." 

Carroll County resident Judy Smith said the ordinance is a waste of taxpayer money and it sends the wrong message to business. 

"I'm embarrassed by this ordinance. If you're going to do that [pass the ordinance], then I suggest you change the 'Feel right at home in Carroll County' signs placed around the county," Smith said.  

David from VoxPop October 02, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Well then, OBVIOUSLY there's no cost issue to Carroll County then, right? Just find a way to partner with embassy translators and have it done as a service to constituents. What a fabulous idea! You should mention that to Haven.
David from VoxPop October 02, 2012 at 12:44 PM
But, Native, the issue is not being framed as efficiency. It's being framed by Mr. Shoemaker as being for convenience (I'm tired of pressing 2 for English) and by Mr. Rothschild as a step toward preserving "culture and heritage." It's very telling that the Commissioners are on record supporting this useless legislation for reasons OTHER than efficient operation of government. I'm going by what the sponsor and his biggest advocate have said on record to justify their position. If they have something factual to offer, then by all means. Until that time, it's just political posturing.
Buck Harmon October 02, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Current translation technology also nullifies the extreme perceived future costs that Rothschild and Shoemaker speak of as well. Most simple lap tops have the technology to type and translate many different languages , and are very cost effective and efficient...
John Culleton October 02, 2012 at 04:00 PM
When the issue of language came up at the Constitutional Convention the two candidate languages were English and German. English won out. However the nation's Spanish speaking population has increased to the point that bilingual or multilingual government documents have become the norm in many jurisdictions. Since no one has proposed such activity for Carroll County the Shoemaker proposal seems to me a waste of time. Our non-English speaking population is still tiny. The commissioners have better things to do. For example, school closings are being proposed because of declining enrollments yet most schools in South Carroll still have and presumably use portable classrooms. And criminals who commit major felonies are given minimal or no jail time, the excuse being that the County Lockup is overcrowded. Now there's an issue that should be addressed. There was a proposal at one time to build a new School Board headquarters building, repurpose the present School Headquarters building for the Sheriffs Department and additional courtrooms and expanding the current Lockup into the space thus vacated by the Sheriffs Dept. This would retain a single Lockup but with sufficient room for more inmates, keep the Sheriffs Department and the Lockup near the Courts, and provide more courtrooms in the same vicinity. This plan was rejected because "The school board doesn't need more space", a total misunderstanding of the purpose of the proposal.
Buck Harmon October 02, 2012 at 04:20 PM
These Commissioners seem to be stuck within the realm of the tea party political agenda, and lack the ability or expertise needed to tackle the much more important issues that currently face the County.

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