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AZ: DOJ to County Board of Supervisors: provide interpreters or else

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

he Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has received a formal letter from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicating that they are initiating an investigation into possible civil rights violations by the Board.

The complaint, sent to Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Kunasek, alleges that the, “MCBOS has failed to provide language access for limited English proficient (LEP) persons during its public meetings, either in its main meeting space or in its overflow room in the cafeteria.” In other words, the complaint contends that the Board of Supervisors did not provide Spanish interpreters at tax payers expense to accommodate those who were unable to speak English.

The investigation stems from a December 2007 incident where a community activist named Silvio Garcia attempted to address the Board at a public meeting in Spanish. Silvio contends that Supervisors Kunasek and Max Wilson made remarks that he should speak English.

Garcia subsequently filed a complaint with the DOJ against both the Board of Supervisors and the Maricopa County Sherriff’s department, although it is difficult to ascertain exactly what Sheriff Joe Arpaio had to do with this event.

Although Arizona amended it’s constitution several years ago to state that, “Official actions shall be conducted in English,” this is superseded by Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which says that no person should be discriminated against on the grounds of race or national origin under any program receiving federal aid, which includes county governments.

Further complicating the matter is the allegation by the Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, that the letter from the DOJ dated March 18th, was only received by his office on August 11th. However, the Board of Supervisors own civil litigation department attorney Wade Swanson denies there was any wrongdoing on the Boards part.

"This idea that this was somehow withheld is a lie, and this idea that it was somehow held from the public is a lie," Swanson said. He claims that his office has been working with the country attorney’s office for months on the issue. "It's demonstrably false that his office just became aware of it – he (Thomas) may have just become aware of it - but his office has been involved in it. They have been aware of this for months."

For their part, the Board of Supervisors has turned very cooperative. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said she believes the county must make Spanish-language interpreters more accessible during public meetings.

"You have to provide equal access, you have to come up with an interpreter should the need arise," she said. "We really need to come up with a remedy."

So brace yourself Maricopa County citizens. More of your tax dollars will be spent to provide interpreters so that those unwilling to learn English can have their say at the County Board meetings.

Come to think of it, perhaps they might use that same money to provide mandatory classroom instruction so that all of our citizens can speak the national language of our country…English.

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