Farmers Branch (TX): FB making it official, dropping most Spanish

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Dec 9 14:02:41 UTC 2006

FB making it official, dropping most Spanish

English-only approach won't apply to safety matters, officials say

11:30 AM CST on Friday, December 8, 2006
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News

Since elected leaders declared English the city's official language last
month, Spanish no longer plays on the wall of televisions overlooking the
stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical trainers at the Farmers Branch
Community Recreation Center. In public works, new trash bags being ordered
for residents will have the holiday schedule for trash pickup printed only
in English. But instructions on how to load the 50-gallon paper bags will
be printed in both English and Spanish, because it's a safety issue.

Some temporary signs in Spanish have been removed at the public library.
Fliers for park and recreation activities and library events and other
nonessential information will be printed only in English. These are among
the ways that Farmers Branch has put into practice the language policy it
adopted Nov. 13. City leaders stress that it applies only to city
government, not to schools, churches or other organizations.  It does not
mean that city employees will not be allowed to speak in languages other
than English.  City Manager Linda Groomer said the city will continue
communicating with residents in Spanish when it's a matter of public
health or safety.

Operations for police, fire, ambulance, code enforcement, building
inspections, restaurant inspections and most other city departments have
not been affected by the new policy, Ms. Groomer said. At the recreation
center, nine televisions are pre-set to specific channels two news
channels, ESPN and three major networks. The Spanish-language channel that
used to be tuned in is no longer an option. "There's no health and safety
reason for us to make the stations available in Spanish," Ms. Groomer
said. While resident Salvador Parada expected some changes after the
city's decision, he didn't realize it would affect his ability to watch
Spanish-language TV while working out.

"Residents should have a say in what stations are watched at the gym," he
said. "After all, we are the ones paying for the membership and not the
City Council. I also feel that it discriminates against those people that
speak Spanish."  "I think it's a great idea," Shirley Walker said as she
walked on the fitness center's indoor track. She lives in Carrollton and
works in Farmers Branch. "If they want to have it in their homes, that's
fine. But I don't know why I should be exposed to it here, not in a public

Damien Bleu said he doesn't want his neighbors, who are immigrants, to
feel animosity over the city's decision to make English the official
language or the companion ordinance that will ban apartment owners from
renting to illegal immigrants and require all renters to show proof that
they are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally. But Mr. Bleu
believes the language decision has merit. "If they speak Spanish, they
really should be watching English TV anyway to get more accustomed to the
language," the Farmers Branch resident said.

Residents can still check out Spanish-language books or other reading and
audio material at the city's library. Comparing reading materials in a
person's first language with the same materials in another helps people
learn that new language, library director Danita Barber said. "I just feel
like the library's mission is somewhat different from the rest of the
departments in that we are an educational institution," she said. "If the
city wants our official language to be English, the library is the perfect
place to start that learning process." A third measure adopted by the
council authorizes the Police Department to apply to participate in a
federal program that will train officers to verify the residency status of
people in police custody and in some cases initiate deportation

Mr. O'Hare said the city's measures have caused some confusion. "You had
people, before the ordinance was passed, so-called leaders, over at the
Catholic church telling people that if these measures were passed, we were
going to prohibit them from having Mass in Spanish," Mr. O'Hare said.
"Absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth." He said that
creating a policy to make English the official language has two purposes:
to ensure that people who speak only English will not be prevented from
getting a job with the city, and to end the publication of non-health-and
safety-related documents in Spanish.

"One of the glues that holds our society together and unifies us is a
common language, and we are losing that common language in a lot of
areas," Mr. O'Hare said. "The people that don't speak English are only
hurting themselves, but never would I consider ... or attempt to keep
people from speaking any language they chose to in their homes or in their
churches or out in public." Meanwhile, longtime resident Gerald P. Smith,
67, has filed a complaint with the Dallas County district attorney's
public integrity unit. Mr. Smith says the council violated the Open
Meetings Act by deliberating on immigration issues behind closed doors and
making a decision before involving the public.

"They had two public inputs, but it was basically after they had already
done their dirty deed," said Mr. Smith, a retired police captain. "I'm not
running for no office or anything else. I'm just a disgruntled citizen."
He declined to release a copy of his complaint but said he was told the
unit would investigate whether any criminal charges were warranted.
Officials with the district attorney's office could not be reached for
comment. His complaint is separate from the lawsuit filed on similar
grounds earlier this week by the Bickel & Brewer Storefront on behalf of
Guillermo Ramos, a real estate agent and Farmers Branch resident. Mr.
Smith supports the policy making English the official language but not the
two other measures.

"That is something that's in our heritage," he said of the language rule.
"We don't have to bend over backwards to accommodate Hispanics or publish
our language in Korean. That's the right thing to do. All that other
stuff, cities can't pass legislation to rid this country of illegals.
That's a federal issue, and it needs to be handled by the feds."

Staff writer Jay Parsons contributed to this report.

E-mail ssandoval at

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