Texas: Council votes to not consider official language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Oct 8 18:38:32 UTC 2008

Council votes to not consider official language

BY DAN EAKIN, Staff Writer
(Created: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 6:01 PM CDT)

The Lewisville City Council on Monday night voted, 4-1, to not
consider a resolution which would have established English as the
official language of the city. Before what Mayor Gene Carey described
as "the first standing-room only crowd at a council meeting in 17
years," the council listened to speakers from the audience for more
than two hours before voting not to consider the resolution.
Councilman Lathan Watts, who had sponsored the resolution, was the
only one to vote against not considering it. A total of 18 people who
had signed cards to speak came to the podium to speak either in favor
of or in opposition to the passage of the resolution, with about half
speaking in favor and about half speaking in opposition.

Many were emotional as they spoke either in favor or in opposition.
John Gorena, who described himself as a Christian American of Spanish
descent, was one of the strongest proponents in the audience for
making English the official language of the city. He also earlier had
spoken in favor of the city only translating into Spanish what state
or federal law requires. Watts had also requested that the council
consider approving a policy which would have determined which city
documents and publications should be translated into Spanish. The
council voted to continue a plan already in place that allows each
city department to determine what should be translated into Spanish,
with a review by the city manager.

Gorena said, "Not having a unified language divides us."

Only two cities in North Texas, Farmers Branch and Oak Point, have
passed resolutions establishing English as the official language of
their cities.

Duane Olson, mayor of Oak Point, addressed the council and said the
Oak Point City Council's decision to establish English as the official
language of their city was one of the worst decisions that council
ever made.

"It did not change anything," Olson said. "It only caused disharmony
and pitted neighbor against neighbor. If we bring this up again this
year, I am sure it will be rescinded. It was not passed by the
citizens of Oak Point. It was passed by a biased city council."

While Gorena contended that making English the official language would
unite the community, Olson said, "It does not unite. It only divides."

Susan Davis-Duarte also contended that "English is the unifying language."

Gary Moore said, "I support you guys in making English as the official

Robert French, a Lewisville High School graduate, called the proposal
"a haven for bigotry, prejudice and hatred."

Many in the crowd booed when he suggested that both English and
Spanish be designated as official languages of the city.

"Making English the official language will only divide us further," French said.

The Lewisville City Council had earlier been concerned about the cost
of printing documents and publications in Spanish as well as English.
However, that concern dwindled when City Secretary Julie Heinze said
the city spent only about $475 last year on printing in Spanish.

Ray De Los Santos Jr., director of the North Texas League of United
Latin American Citizens (LULAC), asked the council, "Are we
realistically saying that the city cannot afford to promote an
informed citizenry?"

The LULAC director said Spanish-speaking people are encouraged to learn English.

"It is not only the language of America, it is the language of the
world," he said, noting that more people in China speak English than
in the United States.

Councilman Dean Ueckert went over the list of items which the city is
now printing in both English and Spanish, and noted that, although not
all required by law, in each case they are printed in both languages
in order to ensure the health and safety of all citizens.

At that point, Gorena appeared to back off his earlier statement that
the city should only print in both languages what the law requires.

"I would have to take a closer look at it," Gorena said.

Ueckert said the city now prints 23 items in Spanish which are not
required by law. One item not required by law, printed in both English
and Spanish, asks residents not to pour grease into a disposal.

City Attorney Ron Neiman was asked at least twice how making English
the official language of the city would change how the city operates.
Neiman would only answer that it would be a policy decision and would
not comment on whether or not it would change any procedures.

Ueckert had suggested that passing the resolution could possibly
create legal issues.

Councilmen Greg Tierney and David Thornhill both said that, at first,
passage of the resolution seemed like a good idea, but changed their
minds after taking a closer look.

Councilman Rudy Durham had expressed his opposition at the Aug. 18
meeting, and said Monday night, "My position has not changed, so I
will be against this."

After all of the people who had signed up to speak had spoken, Watts
delivered an emotional speech in which he said he had made two mission
trips to Latin America "to bring food, and more importantly,
salvation, to people who don't speak the same language as I do."

He said making English the official language of the city would not
make it illegal for people to speak Spanish in the city.

"No one is going to break down your door and ask you what language you
are speaking," he said.

He noted that America is the melting pot of the world and said, "One
of the things that allows that melting together is a common language."

Watts, who was re-elected last May, said he was aware that his
position might keep him from being re-elected.

"I would rather stand for what I believe than get re-elected," he said.

Tierney told Watts that it was a good thing to bring the subjects up
for discussion. However, Tierney said making English the official
language, "other than being symbolic, wouldn't have a tangible

Ueckert said, "Our county officials haven't seen the need to make this
an issue. Our state officials haven't seen the need to make it an

He said a bill proposed in the Texas House of Representatives to make
English the official language of the state "didn't even make it to

Carey said, "At first, that (resolution making English the official
language of the city) sounded pretty good, but the more I studied it,
I couldn't see where it would be advantageous to do it."

At about 10 p.m., after the lengthy discussion, Watts made a motion to
approve the resolution, but did not get a second.

The mayor then asked for a motion not to consider the resolution.
Durham said, "So move." Thornhill seconded the motion, with Ueckert
and Tierney also voting in favor.


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