20525877_1344883558962780_2259528948883654991_nThe Latino Community Coalition (LCC) has expressed serious concerns regarding the Kent County Commission’s decision not to provide interpretation and translation services for all public comments made in languages besides English at public commission meetings.

During their April 25th session, the Kent County Commission made changes to their rules which were clearly in response to the actions of Movimiento Cosecha GR, an immigrant rights movement who held multiple demonstrations at their commission meetings. Among those changes was the requirement that commissioners remain seated and not join the public or sit with them, or use the microphone designated for public use to make comments. Most alarming was the commission’s vote to leave the decision to translate public comments made in other languages to the discretion of the current commission chairperson.

Commissioner Jim Talen made a motion to change the policy language to require that all public comments be translated and not at the discretion of the board chair, but the commission discussed this option and ultimately voted against it. Although the board chair expressed her intention to grant all requests for translation of statements made in other languages, her comments during the discussion and subsequent vote against putting that intent in writing is a complete contradiction. This decision is a clear attempt by the commission to silence county residents from immigrant communities, and to reserve the right to continue to do so as they see fit. The option to create barriers for any residents to be heard should never be available to a publicly elected decision-making body.

During the course of the discussion, Commissioner Jim Saalfeld objected to the cost of interpretation and translation, saying that doing so was an option to save money because “There may be times where there are things that are not consequential to what’s being presented.” Commissioner Tom Antor stated, “Since all of us, I think, speak English in this room, I think it’s reasonable that they have someone that could help them with, you know, translating for them if need be.” Comments like these are extremely offensive.

The LCC urges the community to contact their county commissioner to demand that they open up the conversation for an amendment requiring all public comments made in other languages be translated into English so that they may be reflected in the public record and so that commissioners are able to understand all resident comments. The county commission does not have to wait two years to make the changes. The LCC also invites concerned community members to attend the upcoming Kent County Commission meeting on Thursday, May 23 at 8:30 a.m. in the County Administration Building at 300 Monroe Ave or subsequent meetings which are held at the same time and place every other Thursday.

Finally, the LCC thanks the 7 commissioners who spoke up for the right of all county residents to be heard, regardless of the language that they speak. Residents can view news coverage here, and a video of the conversation here.  LCC invites you to contact your commissioner (click here to see a map if you aren’t sure who your commissioner is).