Romero aims to propose council translation services next month

By Randi B. Hagi, contributor

Vice Mayor Sal Romero said he hopes to present a proposal to the rest of council next month to introduce translation services at city council meetings and potentially other city services.  

Romero, who addressed the issue of language barriers in his city council campaign last year, said he has been working with Assistant to the City Manager Amy Snider to learn how other localities have provided language services to their residents.

“We have discussed multiple prospects,” Romero told The Citizen  after Tuesday’s city council meeting. “I’m very excited. I think we’re putting the time into it to make it effective.”

Romero explained that merely providing the service would not be going far enough to ensure accessibility for all members of Harrisonburg’s increasingly diverse population. Truly making the meetings language inclusive will take a “complex approach,” he said.

“It’s going to take outreach, letting people know, encouraging people to attend,” Romero said. It requires a culture within city government that asks, “how welcoming are we?”

The city does make interpreters available to Harrisonburg residents to help with understanding city services and policies. Languages include Spanish, Russian, Korean, Kurdish, Farsi, Arabic, Mandarin, Amharic and Tigrigna, which is spoken in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. 

Housing Authority spot filled

During Tuesday’s meeting, the council appointed Costella Forney to fill out the remaining open spot on the Harrisonburg Redevelopment Housing Authority — a decision that came after a month delay.

Mayor Deanna Reed at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting had called for more applicants for authority’s board position. Reed said she hoped the position would be filled by someone who lives in the Northeast neighborhood, where public housing that the authority oversees is located. Forney lives in the neighborhood and is a pastor at the nearby John Wesley United Methodist Church.

In her application, Forney — a Harrisonburg native — wrote that she would “be a voice for those who otherwise would not be heard” and that she was particularly qualified for the position because she lived in public housing as a child.

Councilman Richard Baugh nominated Forney from a list of five applicants, saying that several people had approached him to recommend her. The council unanimously agreed.

Citizens hopeful about criminal justice data

Five residents spoke during public comment, all touching on the local incarceration rates and criminal justice system. Four were representatives of the grassroots organization Faith in Action and praised the new data system, about which The Citizen reported last week.  The system will be shared by the city and county. The speakers also supported the prospect of the city hiring a Community Justice Planner.

Faith in Action member Kent Davis Sensenig asked the council to continue to “make our community a more just and equitable place.”

Also at the meeting:

  • The council approved five special event application requests from Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s Event Manager, Erin Smith, for the upcoming Rocktown Beer & Music Festival (Saturday, Apr. 20), Superhero Scholarship 4-Miler (Saturday, May 18), Alpine Loop Gran Fondo (Sunday, Sept. 29), 5k Run/Walk for Autism (Saturday, Apr. 20), and Girls on the Run 5k (Sunday, Apr. 28).
  • City Attorney Chris Brown reported that, under Virginia state law, Harrisonburg should create a Towing Advisory Board to oversee “law enforcement-initiated tows,” such as when a police officer requests removal of a vehicle involved in an accident or an abandoned vehicle. The council voted unanimously to allow city staff to begin recruiting the board members: two police officers, two towing company representatives, and two residents. The formation of the board is legally required to review a proposed ordinance from city staff which would regulate law enforcement-requested towing.Editor’s note: Because of an editor’s error, this article initially mischaracterized how residents can access translation services. They can do so through city staff.  (Updated 6:38 p.m.)

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