Don’t speak English? No problem at city hall


By Charles Sercombe

          It may have taken 13 years, but you know what they say.

          Better late than never.

          That’s the case for Hamtramck when it came to adopting a federally-mandated policy to provide assistance to those who speak little or no English.

          The 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was amended in 2000, requires cities that receive federal financial aid — and wish to continue to do so –to adopt what’s called the Title VI Non-Discrimination Plan.

          “The federal government cracked down on this,” said Kathy Angerer, Hamtramck’s Director of Community & Economic Development, in regard to Hamtramck and many other cities only now taking steps to comply.

          The city was also required to adopt a Limited English Proficiency Plan.

          In a nutshell, the plan entails city employees to have a sheet of paper or a card on hand with several languages on it. When city employees encounter a person who doesn’t speak English, they will then present the paper and ask the person to point to the language they speak.

          The city isn’t required to immediately call a translator, said Angerer. Instead, the city has a week or so to make arrangements.

          However, Angerer said the city has already been handling such cases informally, either by calling in someone they know in city hall who speaks the language or asking someone waiting in line at a department window for help.

          If no one is available, the city will rely on the translation services of a local company, Bromberg Translation Services.

          While it is a federal requirement to adopt the two policies, that doesn’t mean it happened without some questions from some city councilmembers.

          Councilmember Robert Zwolak wondered why the council was being asked to adopt the policy when there is an emergency manager in charge. And, he stressed, since it has financial implications to the city, this issue should be up to the EM.

          Angerer said it’s the duty of the council to adopt laws, and the financial impact will be OK’d by the EM.

          Councilmember Anam Miah said it’s a matter of following federal law.

          “We have to do it, and we should have done it a long time ago,” Miah said.

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