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Reading City Council considers Spanish version of the City Charter

Reading City Council is considering translating the City Charter to make it more accessible to the Latino community.

“I’m very excited. I’m very happy to have this presented,” Councilman Jaime Baez Jr. said at a recent City Council committee of the whole meeting. “Knowing that our city is over 70% Latino, it is something that I think is crucial for our city to have.”

Baez, with the help of City Solicitor Fred Lachat, took the lead in pursuing the matter after receiving requests from residents for a translation.

There are two routes the city could take in translating the charter to Spanish, Baez said.

“One of them is more informal,” he said, “and one of them is more formal by referendum.”

Lachat explained the first option would be to informally translate the charter, post it to the city’s website and make it otherwise available to the public for informational purposes only.

The more formal option would place Spanish and English versions of the charter on equal legal footing, the solicitor said, and would require a voter referendum.

No council or other legal action would be needed for an informal translation, he said, noting the English version of the charter would be the one interpreted for legal purposes.

Having two official versions of the charter could create a situation where legal interpretation or action might be needed, Lachat said. Even with the English version, he noted, the meaning of a single word can be argued depending on the context or interpretation.

The cost to translate the 12-page document should be less than $35,000, regardless of the option chosen, Lachat said, noting he recommends engaging more than one translation service.

“Maybe as many as three,” he said, “to actually kind of do the editing and revising of each other’s work, so that we get the most accurate side-by-side version.”

Baez said he favors the more formal option.

“It should be on the referendum to be voted on, so that way it can be encapsulated in its full potential,” Baez said.

The charter translation would be the same regardless of which option is chosen, Lachat noted.

“It’s not like there’s going to be a better translation if it is done through the referendum process,” he said. “That would just require an ordinance.”

The difference, should the referendum pass, is that the charter would have to be maintained in both languages, Lachat said.

“It could complicate things, if there is a legal issue,” he noted.

In his research, the solicitor said, he found no similar situations where a piece of city legislation, whether a charter or an ordinance, was maintained for legal purposes in any language other than English.

“Philadelphia, for instance, put a lot of effort into creating a language access panel policy,” Lachat said, “but their ordinances and their charters are still in English.”

Regardless of the route chosen, Lachat said he recommends council form a committee to review and evaluate the 10 or so translation services available.

Baez said he has heard negative comments about translating the charter.

“Like, ‘Oh well, you know, people aren’t going to read it,’” he said.

But because of the language barrier, many can’t read it even if they want to, he noted.

“We want to give the opportunity to our residents to have the charter in Spanish,” Baez said. “That way, they can understand and also become part of and involved in our government.”

Council also discussed providing Spanish translations of ordinances and other city information and offering sign language interpretation at city events, such as press conferences and dedication ceremonies.

Source: Berkshire mont

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