By ALIA MALIK, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Taneytown, a small city in Carroll County three miles from Pennsylvania, will consider a proposal to make English its official language at a City Council workshop Wednesday.
The proposal comes on the heels of a similar law newly passed by Hazleton, Pa., that's gaining national attention. Hazleton put teeth into that law with another that was recently suspended by the courts: to fine and possibly take permits from landlords who housed illegal immigrants and businesses that hired them.
The Taneytown resolution, introduced in August by Councilman Paul L. Chamberlain Jr., would amend the city's charter and create the English Language Unity Ordinance, mandating that all government business be conducted in English.
The council will hold a public hearing on the matter Wednesday before voting on it as early as next Monday, Chamberlain said.
"This is America," Chamberlain said. "You don't see the Declaration of Independence written in any other language, do you?"
The ordinance would not conflict with state and federal laws requiring that the city provide interpreters as needed, nor would there be a penalty for breaking it, Chamberlain said.
If someone got up at a City Council meeting and spoke Spanish, the most that would happen is "they wouldn't be understood," he said.
In July, before introducing the resolution, Chamberlain knocked on more than 500 doors and asked residents whether they thought English should be the language of Taneytown, he said.
"Eight out of 10 people already thought it was, and they were shocked to hear that that's not the way it was," he said.
The informal poll found widespread support for the policy, Chamberlain said.
"The people in the city of Taneytown, as well as the mayor and the council, realize that not only the city of Taneytown, the state, the United States of America, was founded on a diverse group of people," he said. "In order for us to communicate with each other, we need to have a common language, and with a common language, you bring communities together instead of segregating it."
One voice was particularly influential—that of Chamberlain's friend, who had a son killed in a truck accident by a Spanish-speaking driver who could not communicate with the 911 dispatcher.
"That stuff, you know, it shouldn't happen," Chamberlain said.
The accident, however, was in Frederick County. Chamberlain said he has not encountered anyone in Taneytown who cannot speak English, but other residents have told him they have.
Of the 5,128 people who live in the city, 4,923 are white, said Matthew Simmont, planning manager for the Carroll County Bureau of Comprehensive Planning. Hispanics are counted in the "other races" category, a total of 32 people. The county does not keep data on how many are immigrants or speak another language, he said. Taneytown does not keep population data at all.
The city has never dealt with anyone needing to use a language other than English for government business, said Councilman James L. McCarron Jr., who opposes the measure.
"I think that all of the stir that Councilman Chamberlain has caused with this is an effort to drag attention to an issue that doesn't make any difference to anybody," McCarron said.
Taneytown seemed to be following the Hazleton model, McCarron said, adding he would not support similar enforcement measures.
"I think it would be a natural lead-in to something like that," he said. "I don't think it's an issue that makes sense for a local government to deal with."