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Our View: Commissioners’ reversal bad for perception of Carroll County, in any language

Last month, the county commissioners seemed ready to repeal Carroll’s English language ordinance. One called it “a stain” on the county. Another called it “silly.” Another called it “purely politically.” And the the other two called for public hearings and/or a survey to have the ordinance properly debated.

What a difference a month makes. On Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners nixed the idea, voting 4-1 against holding a public hearing.

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So the silly, politically motivated ordinance that has put a stain on the county — again, the commissioners’ words — remains in place. As does the perception that Carroll County wants nothing to do with those who don’t speak fluent English.

What happened in the four weeks between the meetings? The commissioners apparently heard from constituents worried that some other language might soon overtake English in Carroll County. Please.

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In 2013, a previous Board of County Commissioners enacted this ordinance, making English the official language of Carroll County — essentially requiring all county documents, publications, notices and public business be written and conducted in English only, according to county attorney Tim Burke, who said he was aware of “no cost savings” associated with it.

The commissioners unanimously voted Jan. 9 to hold a public hearing after Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, raised the subject of possibly 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.” Said Frazier: “It puts a stain on Carroll County, and I would like to get that off."

There was seemingly no opposition to looking into it. Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, who led the fight against revisiting it on Thursday, questioned why the ordinance was needed four weeks earlier. “I kind of think this is silly,” Wantz said. “Why is this in place if it’s done nothing?”

Why indeed?

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In January, Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said, “I think the original motive for this ordinance was purely political to appease a very small minority politically in our county.” He was right. On Thursday, Bouchat called the law “quite innocuous.” He was right again. But as Frazier pointed out, the law itself isn’t the issue.

“It was put out there to keep certain people out of Carroll County. That is the perception," Frazier said on Thursday. "I don’t like that perception.”

Nor should anyone who wants people and businesses to move into Carroll County.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, agreed that perception is the problem. Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, questioned whether the ordinance should be law or perhaps a “best practice.” Yet when Wantz made the motion not to move forward with a public hearing, all but Frazier voted with him.

Wantz said he made a mistake in January and he was embarrassed. “When I initially asked for this to go to public hearing ... I did not read the ordinance,” he said Thursday. We will give Wantz credit for his candor, admitting that in a county filled with Republicans who have rightly roasted Rep. Nancy Pelosi for her infamous 2010 statement that Congress had to pass Obamacare to "find out what is in it.” Ironically, the county would be regarded more favorably around the state today had Wantz never read it and stuck with his original position.

Clearly, the perception of the ordinance is worse than the ordinance itself. But, effectively, the ordinance itself does nothing other than to ensure that, “no ordinance, decree, program, or policy of the county shall require the use of any language other than English ...” and “the role of English as the common language of the county is preserved and enhanced.”

In seven years, what exactly has this “innocuous," politically motivated legislation accomplished? If even a small minority agrees with Frazier that it exists “to keep certain people out of Carroll County,” it is ludicrous to have it on the books.

The commissioners understood that in January. Quid facit differentiam in mense.

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