After previously considering eliminating the extra time allotted for people speaking at Board of Supervisors meetings through an interpreter, the county board now seems likely to make mostly technical changes to public input sessions in line with other Northern Virginia localities.
Supervisors began looking into limiting that time after comments in Spanish became common in the boardroom. Non-English comments to the Board of Supervisors had been a rare occasion until recently when New Virginia Majority began organizing in Loudoun, particularly in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. The organization has typically also provided interpretation for those speakers.
Loudoun supervisors hear comment from the public both on specific topics at public hearings, and more generally during time set aside for public comment at business meetings. Currently, the board’s rules of order allow most speakers two and a half minutes to share their thoughts at those meetings and give people delivering remarks in a language other than English double that, five minutes, to allow time for interpreters to translate. The county provides interpreters, but speakers have the option to bring their own.
The board allots up to an hour and a half at business meetings for comments, adding additional time whenever an interpreter speaks to make sure nobody is bumped out of their chance to speak due to a previous speaker using an interpreter.
Supervisors had considered eliminating that extra time, facing non-English speakers with the option to either speak themselves, likely without being understood on the dais and provide a written translated version of their comments; or forego speaking to the board personally and allowing someone else to deliver a translated version of their remarks. Facing protests from the community, supervisors delayed a vote July 5 to Sept. 20, and then this month after gathering public input and information about how other localities handle translators delayed that vote again to Oct. 18.
After polling other Northern Virginia jurisdictions and gathering public feedback, county staff members have recommended largely technical changes to the rules of order that would continue to allow translating, as well as a new option to sign up in advance to speak.
Other county boards polled either by practice or policy typically double the comment time for non-English speakers, or simply stop running the clock when an interpreter is speaking. Loudoun County staff recommended continuing to allow time for translation.
For the Loudoun boardroom, staff members found that simultaneous translation and closed-caption translations are less accurate and may be costly and technically infeasible.
Following a public survey that found non-English speakers had difficulty signing up in advance to speak, they also recommended an online form rather than taking signups only by phone. According to a county staff report, 80% of those who responded to the Spanish version of the survey found the sign-up process difficult. The online form, like the rest of the county website, would be translatable into a number of languages. That would also allow people to sign up outside of the county government’s business hours.
Currently, sign-ups to speak at board meetings are available at the meeting or in advance by calling 703-777-0200. Members of the public can also offer comments to the Board of Supervisors outside of meetings by emailing [email protected] or by calling the comment line at 703-777-0115. Find contact information for individual supervisors and their staff at loudoun.gov/bos.
Supervisors voted 8-0-1, Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau absent, to forward a decision on the rules of order to their meeting Oct. 18.