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.”

David from VoxPop December 13, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I'm so sad that our commissioners have decided that his ludicrous ordinance is even necessary. Carroll County is really starting to feel hostile to me, and I'm a native English speaker with deep roots in this region. Sadly, if the bigots...sorry, protectors of our "culture and heritage"...on the commission pass this law, I will be looking to sell my home and relocate my business to a more enlightened area of the state. Seriously. This move just reeks of right wing xenophobia and it sickens me.
Buck Harmon December 13, 2012 at 01:31 PM
The FACT that Commissioners did not attempt to answer questions from citizens once again speaks volumes to their true and natural character. Moving speakers along without pause... truly weak...was this hearing videoed?
Buck Harmon December 13, 2012 at 01:51 PM
again, I would liken this stunt to Shoemakers drive to build larger schools in North Carroll..
Marta Cruz December 13, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Im hispanic. Fortunately for me, from where I come from English is taught in schools from k-12 grade, so Im lucky to be bilingual. Once in college, I decided to learn more languages and learned Italian and Portuguese. Ive been blessed by having those opportunities. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many other hispanics who come here looking, precisely, for more opportunities, opportunities they dont have back in their countries, opportunities the United States makes so much worldwide bragging about, saying it welcomes people to the land of opportunities. These immigrants, the vast majority, come here in their adult years, after having all their school years in Spanish or maybe no education at all, but with great hopes and determination to contribute to this land, make a decent living and have their opportunities at the same time. Unfortunately for them, learning a new language in their adult or senior years is not always easy, even though they may try, is not easy for them, it could take a while to learn or maybe they cant find the means right away to pay for english classes...so many reasons. Its not that they dont want to learn or to welcome the English language, its just that its not easy for them. So, whats so wrong about lending a hand while they need it, while they try to get settled and try to learn the language?
Marta Cruz December 13, 2012 at 02:55 PM
This ordinance, and many comments Ive seen posted before, saddens me, aches my heart to see so much rejection and hatred comments towards others just because they speak a different language. Ive read comments saying that immigrants are the reason of crime rates in this country...I dont know if you have been watching the news lately, but I havent seen one immigrant shooting in a mall or a movie theater. To say something like this is just plain ignorant. Many immigrants come here to make a decent living and they also contribute to this country in many different ways, if given the chance. After all, werent immigrants those who founded this country? People dont mind immigrants when they cook for them, or clean their homes, or do their laundry, or pick up their crops. But they mind giving them some help to get settled and learn the ways of their new "home". Such hypocrisy...yeah welcome to the land of opportunity, but just to make it clear we wont help you that much, we'll make it a bit difficult.
Marta Cruz December 13, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Even European countries teach their children more than one language in school since the elementary years, among those English, so that they can communicate with as many people as they want. US is the only country who doesnt, you have to wait until middle school or high school and its not even required. Thats how far from the global reality are. The commisioners who proposed this ordinance and those who support it are not thinking either on those translators (many of whom are not necessarily immigrants, but north americans who decided to study and learn different languages and make a career out of it) who will be out of work because of this ordinance. No one is saying that any other language will take the place of English fir God's sake!!! You will only be assisting those who unfortunately cant learn the language as soon as they get here, you are helping them to get those opportunities this country so proudly evoke. So many reasons not to pass it, but what really saddens me is all the hateful and judgmental comments Ive seen some people posting. We are all humans, regardless what language we speak or where we were born.
Marta Cruz December 13, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Thanks to all those who embrace diversity and are willing to help others feel welcomed in this country, feel like they can get those opportunities after all. Im from Puerto Rico, by the way, US citizen since born, but Im hispanic too.
David from VoxPop December 13, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Thank you. I sincerely hope you've sent the exact same message to the Commissioners.
Daniel December 13, 2012 at 04:39 PM
aveteran December 13, 2012 at 09:53 PM
I hope they realize just how much work this is going to cause them. This will invalidate any law using Latin or other foreign language legal terms. Imagine the scramble to edit all those laws when cases are thrown out of court because the law is no longer valid!
Marta Cruz December 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM
David: Please tell me how to contact them and I will gladly send the message as I was unable to attend tonight's hearing. aveteran: good point!
RJ Teich December 13, 2012 at 10:55 PM
I was kicked out of my home, my county , etc because of stinken lousy foreigners! THIS IS THE UNITED STATES! Darn right English only spoken in Carroll County. Don't want it, move to Howard India County!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Buck Harmon December 14, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Judith M. Smith December 14, 2012 at 01:06 AM
You do realize that we were not the first residents in this area...or in the USA...maybe you don't remember that the natives were not from Europe..they were right here...and spoke many different languages...but they were NATIVES...American Indian...And am curious about the "kicked out of my home"--does that mean you are not an original US citizen??? People should be aware that this proposed ordnance is a nothing thing...the Federal and State government has laws that REQUIRE interpreters..but there are circumstances where the government is not required to do that....And also...the people who require such services are usually taxpayers as well as we are. I do not have kids and occasionally chaff at the idea of paying for your kid to go to school...but that is what we get when we have a modern society...we share the expenses, and share the benefits....! It kinda makes me chuckle about the "stinken lousy forengners" comment...we came as those "foreigners" and brought disease...and death...
Buck Harmon December 14, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Ask a Native American how they feel about English only law... The guys a boob..
S Thompson December 14, 2012 at 01:10 PM
When our ancestors came here from Italy, Spain, France, etc. they had to learn english. No one was bending over backwards to make it easy for them. Since when do we need to pay extra fees to conduct business in different languages. Interpreters are not cheap. The cost of doing business in another language should fall on the person not speaking english and requiring the documents in other languages, not the citizens who are english speaking. This ordinace is just essentially passing the cost back to the citizen instead of on the county.
Judith M. Smith December 14, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Perhaps you have missed the point...the ancestors came here and learned the language GRADUALLY out of necessity...they learned without any laws...they learned because their children and the neighbors taught them. Did you miss the part about how these immigrants earn money and are taxed? True that a lot of money is sent back to families...but the money that they earn is taxed and paid here... For Pete's sake--please realize that this is just a political statement directed toward the Tea Party people in this county and is intended to boost the enthusiasm -financially - for a few of the Commissioners. If you had been at the hearing the other night, you would have had an opportunity to learn from people with a different point of view and perhaps have a change of perspective.
S Thompson December 14, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Exactly. They learned the language, they didnt make anyone speak their language. Is the whole thing stupid sure, but its the thought of the cost that has the commissioners running scared. The way it stands now someone could walk in with a document in Farsi put it on their desk and they would have to 1. pay to have it translated, and 2. find someone with the qualifications to translate it, then respond, not in english, but in the language it came in and hope the translation was correct and a lawsuite didnt come out of it. The entire meeting is viewable online and it has not changed my perspective. These commissioners are a bunch of headcases anyway, but they are just getting in line and following suit to what the other counties in this state (and others are doing). Does it make it right, No! Is it necessary, probably not at this point in time. Do the Commissioners like to waste time and look like they are actually busy and important? Ill let you answer that one.
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
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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