A controversial resolution barring the use of city money to provide translation of many city documents or to translate public meetings passed the Lino Lakes City Council on Monday night by a vote of 4-1. The northeast Twin Cities suburb became the first Minnesota city to pass such an ordinance.
About 50 people attended the meeting in the council chambers. In comments before the vote, opponents of the measure appeared to have more people in attendance, though both sides applauded loudly when their allies spoke.
When the vote was taken, Council Member Kathi Gallup cast the lone no vote. After the meeting, she said she is concerned about how the measure will affect perceptions of the city.
"Perception becomes reality," she said, adding that her constituents' comments had been even in recent weeks, but on Monday became a "watershed of 'vote against it.'"
On Monday night, city officials continued to say the measure was motivated purely by economics.
"The reality is these are really hard times, economically, for all of us, and it is a budgetary issue," said Council Member Rob Rafferty, who went on to say that staff has taken furloughs and pay cuts to balance the budget, and that at least five had been laid off. "I'm not saying we're perfect in the direction we're trying to take, but we're trying to protect the good staff that we have and we need."
Though the city currently does not have a budget for translation, Mayor Jeff Reinert said well-run cities plan for the future. "Lino Lakes is changing, as everyone is," he said. "It angers me that people made it into a race issue."
In a workshop meeting before the regular council meeting, City Attorney Jay Squires walked the council through a few revisions, mostly to allow for nonofficial use of languages other than English for customers needing help asking for a form, for example.
The resolution contains several exceptions, mostly for health, public safety and education. Its main proponent, Council Member Dave Roeser, said the exceptions in the ordinance are there to avoid a conflict with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires government entities that receive federal aid to provide Americans with limited English skills with "meaningful access to the programs, services and information those entities provide."
Lino Lakes receives federal aid in the form of a public safety grant. The Department of Justice has taken note of the resolution, though a spokeswoman declined to comment on specifics.
Nationwide, at least 23 states have passed some form of English-language legislation; in several, it is being challenged in court. Oklahoma voters will weigh in on a similar proposal in November.
Emotions ran high at Monday's meeting, and at one point a woman who repeatedly interrupted others to express her opposition to the proposal was escorted by police from the meeting room.
Proponents generally thanked the council for its fiscal responsibility and noted that their own immigrant ancestors had to learn English.
"My grandparents came from Sweden," said resident Carl Palmquist. "I remember the stories, where they used to say it was hard for them to learn English. But they did, and they practiced it in the home, they practiced it at work and they learned English. ... I'm tired of going to restaurants and hearing these new families speaking their native tongue to their kids. There doesn't seem to be any teaching of English to kids in their families."
Opponents urged city officials not to take actions that would drive people away or make it more difficult for them to participate in city life.
Nancy Schardin, a Ham Lake resident and employee of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, said she often sees families the day after they arrive in this country.
"We have to help them," she said, noting that it often takes three generations for a language to take hold in a family. "We have to provide the services they need to make decisions for their children."
Despite the words of the mayor and most council members, several people weren't convinced.
Pablo Tapia, of Lexington, said he felt the need to speak out because his children attend school in Lino Lakes.
"I want to make a correction about this not being about languages," he said. "This is about continuing policies created down in places like Arizona. It's not about economics. ... This is just a tool people use to divide the community."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409