July 22, 2008

LULAC members voice displeasure

By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
(Created: Tuesday, July 22, 2008)

Collin County commissioners on Tuesday heard from local members of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who were concerned that some commissioners do not think that hiring bilingual people is a good thing.

Commissioners voted 4-1 on June 3 to hire Nancy Tenorio, who is bilingual, for a job in the Collin County clerk’s Office. They also voted to increase her salary by 3 percent increase because she can speak English and Spanish. Commissioner Jerry Hoagland voted against hiring Tenorio because he did not want to pay her more than other employees simply because she is bilingual, he said at the June 3 meeting.

“We’re enabling people by doing this,” Hoagland said at that meeting. “English is the spoken language for America. I believe for us to reward somebody, or reward somebody when they come in and provide interpreters for them is wrong. They can bring someone with them to interpret for them.”.

Those remarks sparked four people to make comments on Tuesday — a meeting during which commissioners authorized human resources director Cynthia Jacobson to draft a policy to pay employees more money for certain skills, including being bilingual. Commissioners, including Hoagland, asked Jacobson to write a policy that identifies what salary supplement the county would pay for any skill or certification that can be satisfied through the normal hiring process.

McKinney City Councilwoman Gilda Garza, a member of LULAC Council 608, she was appalled and disappointed by the court’s action over the past year. She specifically spoke about Hoagland’s vote against paying the bilingual supplement to Tenorio.

“I’m disappointed in this commission and the statements that come out of this commission. In reference to bilingual pay, I will say that when I came on council in 2001, one of the first things I did was to suggest that we (McKinney) hire a bilingual municipal court clerk and that a bilingual person be in every department. They didn’t have to be Hispanic, as long as they were bilingual,” Garza said. We (McKinney) also pay our (police) officers different pay if they’re bilingual, and that’s very important,” Garza said.

Garza said she is also disappointed the court forced a county employee to separate from the county because of his sexual preference - referring to openly gay former teen court director Justin Nichols, who reached a termination settlement with the county last month. Neither council officials nor Nichols have stated publicly that his homosexuality was the reason for his departure.

“We as a city (McKinney) are obligated to our residents, and you as a commission are also obligated to your residents. It should be a mandate to hire people who are bilingual. I hope you approve a differential pay,” Garza said.

Victor Manuel of McKinney, the Democratic candidate for Precinct 3 county commissioner in the Nov. 4 election, said the issue of the county’s pay for bilingual employees deals with how the county treats bilingual employees. He spoke about the benefits of having a bilingual workforce.

“My forefathers were French, various Native American tribes and from Central America, and obviously from Africa, in case you missed that. The benefit of having a bilingual workforce is that it speeds up and simplifies all levels of personal interaction within our county. Bilingual employees also increase the safety in the jails and protect ourselves from legal issues,” Manuel said. “All of our Hispanic taxpayers are county shareholders. Whether or not you are a legal citizen living in the United States, you are still paying taxes and living in the county. Employees who are bilingual are coveted by the private sector.”

Coty Rodriguez Anderson of Plano, immediate past director of LULAC District 3, asked the court to continue compensating employees who are bilingual. Anderson, a school counselor for the Plano ISD, said that high school students in the district must complete two years of a foreign language class. If the court votes to not pay more to bilingual employees who use those skills in their jobs, then the court is sending a message to the teens that knowing more than one language is unimportant.

“This is a skill that is needed in this small world,” Rodriguez Anderson said.

Adrian Rodriguez of Plano, past national vice president for the LULAC’s southwest council and a behavioral specialist for the Plano ISD, said that hiring bilingual employees is very much needed.

“I work with a lot of parents who don’t speak English. Most of them want to know English. There are 90 languages spoken in the Plano ISD alone. My concern is that this court is approving discriminatory actions. This is an EEO (equal employment policy) matter,” Rodriguez said.

Joe Scott, director of juvenile probation services for the county, said he would like all of his officers to be bilingual, or to be able to speak Spanish.

“I agree that everyone who lives in the United States should speak English, but bilingual officers is a plus because we’ve got parents of juveniles must be involved at the Collin County Detention Center and we need people who can communicate with those parents,” Scott said.

Hoagland replied to Scott that his wife runs the local passport office. He said that she tells people who cannot speak English that they need to bring an interpreter with them, as she deals with a clientele that speaks 90 languages.

“Why should you have to pay someone more money because they can speak Spanish?” Hoagland asked Scott.

Scott said that he understood Hoagland, but he does not deal with the issue on a daily basis like the officers at the Collin County Detention Center.

“You should be able to compensate our employees who speak Spanish,” Scott said.

Collin County Clerk Stacey Kemp told the court that she hired Tenorio because of her many years of experience and the fact that she is bilingual is a plus. Kemp also said that bilingual employees are needed in her office.

“In my office it is needed. It’s my duty as an elected official to provide the best service I can to citizens. It’s saving money for people in the long run,” Kemp said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Jaynes said he favors hiring people who are bilingual. Jaynes added that having 20 bilingual employees out of the total county workforce of 1,700 is a small number. He was concerned about deputies’ safety and their ability to communicate to people, since 15 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic, He said he wants more officers to be able to speak Spanish, since that is the county’s second most-spoken language.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Phyllis Cole said she was also in favor of paying more money if they are bilingual.

In other news, Hoagland was the only commissioner to vote against an amendment to the contract with the Department of State Health Services for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) card participation. The vote came at the Collin County Health Care Foundation meeting held before the commissioner’s court meeting. The court serves as the voting body for the foundation.

Hoagland asked Candy Blair, director of the county’s health services, if Collin County residents who are in the United States illegally receive assistance through the county’s WIC program.

Blair said the state does not require county employees to check to see if WIC clients are legal citizens.

Hoagland then said he wants to bring the issue to state senators and representatives and all the way to the president’s office in Washington.

Jaynes voted for the WIC amendment, saying he was not prepared to block women and children from the front doors of the health department.

County Judge Keith Self and Jaynes also presented two awards to Jacobson. The human resources department received the awards from the National Association of Counties. The county received an award for the HR department’s pay for performance plan for the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s health and wellness program. Self said that Collin County was the only county in Texas to receive any awards.

Contact staff writer Brandi Hart at hartb@acnpapers.com. To post comments online, access

this story at www.scntx.com.

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