Texas: Friendswood to amend charter to officialize English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Dec 6 14:03:56 UTC 2006

December 05, 2006

In Friendswood, a pointless proposal to solve an imaginary problem It
started with a reasonable idea: requiring city workers to be able to speak
English. There are good, common-sense reasons for this; a worker who
interacts with the public needs to be able to communicate with them.
That's how what's mutated into a city charter amendment declaring English
as Friendswood's official language was born: The change (to city hiring
guidelines) came after Friendswood resident William Hilburn complained
that he couldn't communicate with city employees trimming trees near his


"He come out and come up [sic] and stood right there and was trying to
tell me about this "boothis" and pointing at the tree.

The problem wasn't that they were there to trim his tree, it was that they
couldn't communicate.

Nothing unreasonable about identifying that as a problem. And it seems
that it's already being addressed. But the city council is looking at
something a bit broader than hiring policies: The City Council will
discuss putting a charter amendment before voters that would establish
English as the official language of Friendswood. Council member Chris
Peden, who first brought the idea up, said he thought voting on the change
would be a way to de-politicize the issue and make sure it was what city
residents wanted. "If the people want this, it should be on the ballot,"
he said. "That in no way means I'm for it or against it. I personally do
support English as the official language. I was hoping that wouldn't be
the point."

Peden said a lot of false information and rumors have blown his original
idea out of proportion. Miscommunication has led some Friendswood
residents to believe that the law would make speaking another language
illegal or that city personnel wouldn't communicate with residents who
didn't speak English, Peden said. He said he hopes that the amendment, if
passed, would be ceremonial and not change much about how the city does
business. Forms, publications and permits that the city publishes would be
printed first in English, and then in any other language necessary. (Peden
thought this would de-politicize the issue?)

Here's what's interesting about the amendment: it's meaningless. It
doesn't appear to change anything. Friendswood will use English as its
primary language (which it does already) and others as needed. That's a
perfectly sensible policy. So why the amendment? More from Peden from the
Chronicle today: "What establishing English as an official language does
is give a baseline," Peden said. "The city of Friendswood is going to
publish everything in English. Our meetings will be held in English. If
you want to address the City Council, you'll address the City Council in
English.  If you want to apply for something, the forms will be written in
English.  Now that does not in any way mean that they cannot or will not
or should not be written in another language. That just simply means the
official language of the city is English."

Peden's statement about a "baseline" is incoherent, and the rest simply
explains that this amendment has no practical effect on anything. It's a
non-solution to a non-problem which leaves the Friendswood council looking
non-intelligent. But not as bad as the League of United Latin American
Citizens, which says they may sue over it. It's a politically tone-deaf
move that makes more out of the Friendswood amendment than it actually is,
while making LULAC look like bullies and playing right into the
conservative bogeyman of the scary Latino coming to remake America. So now
we have a debate about a proposal that does nothing except, apparently,
attract a lawsuit. Perhaps the people of Friendswood should considering
cutting back the hours of the city council before they come up with more
great ideas about how to do nothing at all in controversial ways.



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