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October 24, 2012

“English Only” Up in Carroll County

Kevin E. Dayhoff

In Carroll County, a hearing is scheduled in New Windsor on October 30 to gather public input on a proposed ordinance, similar to the one passed by Frederick County officials in February to designate English as the official language of the county.


In Frederick County, the proposal passed by a vote of 4-1 and, according to the Associated Press, “requires official actions of Frederick County to be taken only in English.”


Of course, nevermind that federal and state laws mandate that various government agencies offer assistance to non-English speakers.


If a predominant number of the members of the Frederick and Carroll County Boards of Commissioners were from the Democrat Party, Republicans would be screaming bloody-murder about such legislation being a waste of taxpayers’ time and money… Oh, well, nevermind, moving right along here…


Although the idea for such an ordinance in Carroll County has been discussed since last winter, or earlier, the proposal was introduced by the Board of Commissioners September 27.


The entire kerfuffle over “English only” piqued my curiosity since our area of the state has only spoken English for approximately 25 percent of our history… In our modern history, anecdotal accounts indicate that German was the predominant language in Carroll up to around the time of the Civil War, especially in the northern and western portions of the county.


My thoughts were immediately channeled into a column I wrote October 20 in The Baltimore Sun, “Strictly speaking, Carroll's predominant language was once German.”


“In October 1833, in the area we now know as Carroll County, a vote was taken as to whether or not we should form a new county in Maryland from portions of Baltimore and Frederick counties.”


Much of the opposition to forming a new county came from the predominant German population in Taneytown, Manchester and Hampstead. “Some of those folks were not really sure they wanted to form a new county – especially with a minority that spoke English and owned slaves, and well, perhaps were not as well educated or cultured as the German population.


“There was a great deal of concern that the English speakers would never learn German – and thus would exploit the generosity of the German majority. Paying extra taxes to support the English speakers was also of great concern…


Ultimately, the October 1833 referendum was defeated.”


My colleague Mary Gail Hare wrote on September 27 for The Baltimore Sun that Republican Carroll County Commissioner Doug Howard, who represents the southern portion of the county, “said he wants interpreters available at the hearing for those who need them.”


“We need good public input on this issue,” Commissioner Howard said at the board's weekly session, according to Ms. Hare. “Everyone should be heard.”


My editor for The Baltimore Sun, Jim Joyner, wrote on October 20, that in a press release, Commissioner Howard said: “If this ordinance is ultimately adopted, the county should provide adequate funds for English as a second language classes to give citizens the opportunity to live the American dream.”


According to an article by another colleague who writes for The Baltimore Sun, Julie Scharper, on October 6: “Census figures show the Hispanic population, though still relatively small, has grown by more than 300 percent since 2000. The county's overall population has grown by about 10 percent during that period.


“Advocates say the most recent figure – which shows about 4,600 Latino residents – represents just a fraction of the actual Hispanic population because those here illegally do not want to tip off immigration officials…”


Various media reports indicate that my longstanding friend, Republican Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, has spearheaded the “English as the official language of Carroll County” initiative. I served alongside Commissioner Shoemaker for many years when he was the mayor of Hampstead and I served as the mayor of Westminster.


According to Ms. Scharper, “… the changing face – and lexicon – of Carroll County has some local leaders concerned. Commissioner Shoemaker proposed the official-language measure, an effort, he says, to be proactive.”


“Wave after wave of immigrants have come to this country over the past few hundred years and they have assimilated under one language,” Mr. Shoemaker said, according to Ms. Scharper… “The latest wave has not been as willing to assimilate under the English language, and that's a problem.”


Many agree that “while the measure would be largely symbolic … some Latino immigrants and their allies say the proposal is a sign that the county does not welcome their presence…”


Here’s the thing; I grew up in the plant nursery, farming and landscaping industry and have worked with speakers of other languages – mainly Spanish-speaking people – all my life.


I recall those colleagues, not by the language they spoke, but by their values of being hardworking, family-oriented, and profoundly politically conservative.


For many, Spanish-speaking workers are welcome in our community – and are a critical component of the labor pool for agriculture in Frederick and Carroll County, and all of Maryland.


The Spanish-speakers, just like our ancestors – the non-German speakers – have come to this country to work hard and make a better life for our families.


The Oct. 30th hearing will take place at 7 P.M., at the New Windsor Community Building, 1100 Green Valley Road.


Please, the discussion with the commissioners needs to be respectful. After all, the worst thing that can happen to a community is that everybody thinks the same way all the time. It would be catastrophic if citizens and potential leaders feel unable to proffer a different point of view for fear of the politics of personal destruction.


It has not been lost on many, that the most unpleasant critics of the commissioners and the English-only initiative are the very same people who plead for tolerance for their points of view.


I’m just saying… Press 1 to reach me, in English, at


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