Leaders in Frederick County saw heated debate during a recent hearing when they considered repealing a 2012 ordinance that requires all official business in the county to be conducted in English.
Frederick was Maryland’s first county to implement an English-only ordinance but after three years, newly elected officials say it was a mistake.
“It’s a wrong message. You might as well post a sign that says non-English speaking people are not welcome here,” one resident said. “Why are we doing this?”
“It makes us look intolerant, unwelcoming and petty,” said Barbara Gordon.
Two of the five new County Council members are pushing to repeal the measure. Jessica Fitzwater and M.C. Keegan-Ayer say the ordinance is ineffective, sends a message of intolerance and is bad for business. They introduced the bill to repeal the ordinance in June.
“We have a new government and we’re going to set a different tone,” Keegan-Ayer said.
“It’s becoming increasingly harder to attract businesses and employers to Frederick County when they have this perception that we’re not welcoming or we’re only welcoming if English is your first language,” Fitzwater said.
The repeal is opposed by groups like ProEnglish who called the councilwomen “liberal multiculturists” and “politically correct bullies” in fundraising letters they mailed out. Some residents agree with the English-only ordinance, reported CBS Baltimore.
Fitzwater says local and federal laws require important documents to be available in languages besides English. Therefore, the 2012 ordinance didn’t change anything. “This ordinance accomplished nothing of material substance,” Fitzwater said in June, adding that it smeared the county’s image in the business community and national media.
The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of its largest employers and found nearly all of them supported repealing the ordinance, according to a correspondence from the chamber.
According to 2010 census data, 5.8 percent of the population of Frederick is Asian American and 14.4 percent is Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics are the fastest growing race group in the city and county.
Housing in Frederick is more expensive than the national average, which may be because Frederick is a growing commuter suburb of Washington, D.C.
Jorge Ribas, the president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “We all speak English in our chamber. We’re all for English, but I think mono-literacy is the worst thing that can happen to the United States in a global economy.”