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English-only ordinance might be repealed; commissioner calls law ‘stain on Carroll County’

The 2013 ordinance that made English the official language of Carroll County might be repealed in the near future after the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to hold a public hearing about undoing the law.

The ordinance essentially requires all county documents, publications, hearing notices, and public business be written and/or conducted in English only, according to county attorney Tim Burke. The full ordinance can be found in Chapter 11 of the county Code of Ordinances.

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The 59th Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted the ordinance, Burke said. Robin Bartlett Frazier, Doug Howard, Richard Rothschild, Dave Roush and Haven Shoemaker sat on the board, though none of them do currently.

There are exceptions, Burke said. The law does not apply to anyone in the private sector. Additionally, it is preempted by federal and state laws that require certain services the state and federal government fund to be accessible to the public in other languages.

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Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, on Thursday raised the subject of repealing the ordinance. He suggested it has done nothing to change the way the county operates, has “tarnished” the way Carroll looks to outsiders, and makes the county “look bad” and appear “divisive.”

“I think it puts a stain on Carroll County, and I would like to get that off," Frazier said.

Frazier been hearing negative comments about the ordinance from Carroll citizens since he was elected, he said. Over the holidays, Frazier said, he spoke to people who work with politicians in Annapolis who mentioned the ordinance to him — and not favorably — Frazier said after the meeting.

Burke told the commissioners he believed the intent of the 59th board in adopting the ordinance was to avoid unnecessary translation costs and to “encourage assimilation” in the county. When Carroll adopted the ordinance it became the third county in Maryland to do so, along with Queen Anne’s and Frederick, according to Burke. Frederick County has since repealed its ordinance, he noted.

Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, told the Times on Thursday the English official ordinance was his idea.

“For the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would think that’s a bad thing or unfriendly thing," Shoemaker said. "We just want folks to assimilate and become Americans.”

When he was a commissioner, Shoemaker heard of people in other jurisdictions demanding governmental documents in their native language rather than English, which he said he thought was “kind of silly.” Coupling that knowledge with the fact that many states have English as their official language, Shoemaker said he suggested the ordinance to the 59th Board of Commissioners.

“I know America is the great melting pot, but it seems to me that over the last three centuries, up until relatively recently as a matter of fact, the folks that have come to America have assimilated using a common language, that being English," Shoemaker said. “That’s helped to make America the superpower that it is today.”

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked Burke what money the ordinance has saved Carroll County government.

“We’re not aware of any cost savings,” Burke said. “There was no change. The documents were produced in English before, and the ordinance was adopted and they continued to be produced in English afterwards.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, questioned why the ordinance was needed in the first place.

“I kind of think this is silly,” Wantz said. “Why is this in place if it’s done nothing?”

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Roberta Windham, county administrator, noted that a public hearing would be required before a repeal could be voted upon.

Rothstein suggested a public hearing or two, while Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked for an online survey as well. Weaver said he’d like to hear from thousands of people, not just a few who happen to attend a public hearing.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, agreed with Wantz and also questioned whether the ordinance has done any harm or good to the county.

“I think the original motive for this ordinance was purely political to appease a very small minority politically in our county,” Bouchat said.

The date of the public hearing has yet to be announced.

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