WASHINGTON – English is the official language of Taneytown, the City Council declared Monday night, joining the ranks of a few cities nationwide that have recently announced the same policy.
The Taneytown Council voted 3-2 to pass the English Language Unity Resolution, which asserts that all city government business will be conducted in English. There is no penalty for breaking the resolution, nor does it conflict with federal laws requiring interpreters to be provided when necessary.
“Taneytown could declare that any language is its official language,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Darryl G. Hale, who voted for the resolution as a symbolic gesture. “It has no teeth.”
The vote continues a growing national trend. The Texas city of Farmers Branch passed a similar law last night, and more than 70 percent of Arizona voters approved making English the state’s official language in an Election Day referendum.
Perhaps the most high-profile official English law was passed by Hazleton, Pa., in July, along with ordinances penalizing landlords and employers for hiring and housing illegal immigrants. Those punitive ordinances will not be implemented until a court challenge spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union is resolved.
Taneytown is the first municipality in Maryland to pass such a law, said the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Paul L. Chamberlain Jr., and he hopes it won’t be the last.
“I hope that this will move us forward in the state of Maryland as far as doing the same thing,” Chamberlain said. “It truly says what the solid majority have been saying all along. This is what they want.”
Chamberlain came to the conclusion that public opinion was on his side after conducting an informal poll of about 500 city residents over the summer, he said. Some other council members said they spoke to the public and found the same thing.
“I can’t find five people that disagree with English being the official language,” Hale said.
Chamberlain first proposed the policy in the form of an amendment to the city charter and an ordinance, but repealed those Monday saying that a resolution seemed less harsh and that an amendment is more vulnerable to a court challenge.
The resolution was proposed to unify rather than divide, Chamberlain said.
“This is not about telling people, ‘We don’t want you here,'” he said. “This is about trying to help the immigrants realize the American dream. There are a lot of opportunities out here, but you can’t have that opportunity if you can’t speak English.”
City Council members said they had never encountered Taneytown residents who were unable to speak English, although they said they’ve heard of some.
The lack of a problem was one of the reasons Councilman James L. McCarron Jr. voted against the measure.
“It just irritates people,” McCarron said last week. “It just makes people choose sides one way or another on an issue that doesn’t make a difference.”
Mayor W. Robert Flickinger voted for the measure because he supported it in principle, but thought too much time and money had been spent on it.
“We speak English,” he said. “So we have some foreigners that come in here, if we need to we’ll get interpreters for them to come speak in front of the council or whatever. No big deal.”