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Vigliotti: Commissioners right to listen to constituents, reverse course on English ordinance

In January, the Carroll County Commissioners decided to seek a public hearing on whether to repeal the ordinance which ensures that county documents are, by default, produced in English. In February, the Commissioners reversed their decision to proceed — the right thing to do.

Chris Tomlinson recently laid out an excellent and substantive case for keeping the English ordinance in question. Others, including Tuesday’s editorial from the Times, question the reversal. “What happened in the four weeks between the meetings?” the editorial wondered. “The commissioners apparently heard from constituents worried that some other language might soon overtake English in Carroll County. Please.”

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The editorial assertion that concerns about the imminent collapse of English in Carroll County fueling the reversal is, respectfully, the easiest argument which the editorial could take on. The editorial suggests that, because the majority of Carroll’s residents speak English, their concerns are baseless. But there is something much more important at play here than facile arguments.

Oftentimes, elected officials lean one way, but ultimately decide on another course. This can come about because of additional consideration, research, and importantly, speaking with constituents.

When the commissioners discontinued participation in the lawsuit over prayer before commissioners’ meetings, attributing the decision largely to cost and constituent input, I do not recall the Times taking issue with constituent influence. But now, based on the Tuesday’s editorial, it seems constituent influence is a problem because the commissioners decided not to reconsider the English language ordinance — something the editorial does not like.

But the Commissioners should be applauded for seeking the input of their constituents. It is what Carroll countians, and all Americans, expect at the very least of their elected representatives. True, those we elect may not always make the decisions we would prefer, but, at the very least, we want them to know where we stand. As a member of Taneytown’s City Council, I always seek the input of those whom I serve, and do my best to either account for, or incorporate their concerns wherever possible.

Clearly, the Commissioners received input from their constituents as well; and given the scope of the issue at hand, constituents had thoughts that went well beyond the worry that “some other language might soon overtake English…” And that is not to mention the role of the commissioners themselves.

Though they approved of him for “candor”, the Times editorial made something of a comparison between Nancy Pelosi correctly being criticized for wanting to pass a bill to see what was in the bill, and for Commissioner Wantz and the others not reading the English language ordinance originally. But the comparison does not wholly follow. The difference here is that the commissioners stopped to read the thing before they actually repealed or left it. They should not be criticized for doing their job, especially because reading the actual document so heavily weighted their reversal.

But not according to the editorial. Troubling in the Pelosi comparison was the editorial’s comment that “Ironically, the county would be regarded more favorably around the state today had Wantz never read it and stuck with his original position.” It seems we are either to jettison the pursuit of truth in favor of an ideological position for presumed popularity, or engage in utilitarian exercise — the ends justify the means. But in truth, it is better that Wantz and the others did read it — and then let the substance guide them.

How did the editorial justify that assertion of irony? “Clearly, the perception of the ordinance is worse than the ordinance itself.” True, perception matters. But even more so, the actual truth does. Ironically, the editorial seemingly defeats its own argument by acknowledging the ordinance is not what it has been claimed to be. Should not then the move be to enlighten, rather than to abandon the truth about it? That said, I do not believe the editorial is saying elected officials should not carry out due diligence. But the editorial’s apparent criticism of the process, ironic or otherwise, is therein misplaced.

We know politics isn’t always a flawless or precise exercise. And while the process does matter, the commissioners did not violate any laws, skip any uncorrectable steps, or trample the process itself in reaching their decision this month. They simply changed their minds. They rightly took the expected steps of diligence, including letting constituents have their say. This is a far, far cry from the indecisive John Kerry campaign or the recent impeachment and trial of the president. And there is one last very important thing to consider.

In the present age, scoring points and “mic-drop” moments are valued over understanding and forgiveness. Elected officials are often stereotyped in this way as well, believed never to apologize or to admit a wrong path taken. But we, in the end, are human like everyone else. Wantz and the others, in public, on record, on film, expressed humility and sought a different path. They should be congratulated especially for this — for breaking perceptions and setting an example we should all try to follow.

Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.

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