Crowd Pleads for City Interpreter

Frustrated crowd pleads for city interpreter rehire
The crowd at the Northfield City Council meeting wasn’t afraid to show how it felt Tuesday night, after the council voted 5-2 not to immediately re-establish the city’s Spanish interpreter position.Slapping their knees, shaking their heads and sighing, a number of attendees physically expressed the frustration that has run through the community since the council voted in June to eliminate the position, also known as the Welcome Center Coordinator.

Proponents argue that the position, held by Marj Evans-de-Carpio, was a vital link between the Hispanic community in Northfield and the city and county, and helped recent immigrants adjust to Northfield and access local support.

But the council chose to eliminate the position as part of a larger package of roughly $350,000 in budget reductions. Cutting the position would save up to $70,000 a year, city officials said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Two councilors later expressed reservations over the cut, and one, Councilor Erica Zweifel, asked her fellow council members last month to reconsider their decision.

It was standing room only at City Hall during the meeting, and more than a dozen Hispanic community members turned out in a show of support for Evans-de-Carpio.

“I observed lines of people waiting for [Evans-de-Carpio], because they knew she was someone they could trust,” Northfield resident Sharon Gates-Hull declared during the public comment period.

Gates-Hull wasn’t the only one to step up to the podium on Tuesday. Noemi Gutierrez, a Viking Terrace resident, spoke for two minutes in Spanish at the microphone. She was quickly followed by Janet Lewis Muth, who translated Gutierrez’ comments, illustrating for the council how difficult the language barrier can be to cross.

“They respectfully request the reinstatement of the position,” Muth said on behalf of the meeting’s Spanish-speaking attendees. Both she and Gutierrez received applause from the audience.

The residents’ appeals didn’t fall on deaf ears. The council chose not to immediately reinstate the position. Zweifel and Councilor Betsey Buckheit voted no.

However, the council did vote unanimously to direct City Administrator Joel Walinksi and Councilors Rhonda Pownell and Jim Pokorney to meet with local organizations, and gave them 45 days to determine how to fund a re-established Welcome Center Coordinator through financial partnerships with stake holders in the community.

“We need to undo the damage we’ve done to our relationship with the Hispanic community,” said Zweifel .

Originally posted: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 –

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