Nashville English First Charter Amendment (2009)
It was a proposed amendment to Nashville's city charter that would have required that the official actions and communications of the city's Metro Council be done exclusively in English. Official meetings of the city council as well as of all city boards and commissions would, under the amendment, have been conducted in English. Additionally, no person could have demanded city services or communications in another language unless specifically required by federal or state law. Exceptions were allowed for issues of health and safety.
|"English First" Charter Amendment:|
The English First charter amendment earned a spot on the ballot through the process of citizens collecting signatures on a petition. It is one of two proposed amendments that were on the January 22 ballot; the other was the Nashville "Hear the People" Charter Amendment (2009).
The English First amendment was identified on the ballot as Metropolitan Charter Amendment No. 1. A "yes" vote was in favor of adopting the amendment; a "no" vote was opposed to its adoption.
The exact wording of the proposed amendment is:
- "English is the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Official actions which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English. The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety. Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law."
The official summary that appears on the ballot says:
This amendment provides that:
• English is the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. • Official actions which bind or commit the government are required to be taken only in the English language. • All official government communications and publications are required to be made only in English. • No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. • All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government are required to be conducted only in English. • The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety. • Nothing in the amendment shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.
The name of the group that supports the amendment is Nashville English First. Nashville Councilman Eric Crafton has been a driving force behind the "English First" Amendment.
Former Davidson County Republican Party Chairman Jon Crisp, and Nashville attorney Jim Roberts, have spoken in favor of the amendment.
Arguments in favor
Arguments made in favor of the amendment include:
- It will save the city money since currently the city pays about $100,000 a year for translation services.
- "Having one language as the official language avoids arguments and potential lawsuits over the meaning of translations, costs less than using multiple languages, and treats all other languages the same instead of favoring one immigrant group over another."
Non-disclosure of funds
Citing Boycotts related to California Proposition 8 in California, supporters of the English First measure declined to file their campaign finance filings prior to the election, saying they'd prefer to pay a fine for late filing.
Nashville For All of Us is the name of the official opposition group. It has produced a television ad opposing the amendment. Records show that the group raised $312,455 to oppose the measure.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, a Nashville resident, have been vocal in opposition to the amendment.
Reasons that have been given by the amendment's opponents for their opposition include:
- Gov. Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, says, "This thing is mean-spirited. It’s going to hurt us in terms of business recruiting, it’s going to be used against us in terms of business recruiting. It does not help us with tourism… It’s bad for the city and I really hope people will see it for what it is and vote no on this."
- It will hurt business in the city, such as with the 76 Nashville companies with some degree of foreign investment.
- Conservative blogger Nathan Moore argued at a forum in early January that his opposition to the English Only amendment is in line with conservative ideals. He said the charter amendment proposal would not save enough money in the long run to justify the special election. He also said English Only was unnecessary because Tennessee law already made English the official language.
Finances of opponents
Financial disclosure statements filed with the Davidson County Election Commission indicate that group opposing the amendment had raised about $286,000 through mid-January.
The largest donors to the anti-amendment cause:
- HCA ($50,000)
- Steve Turner from Market Street Investments, the company leading the redevelopment of The Gulch ($50,000)
- Caterpillar Financial ($25,000)
- Rogers Group Investments President Ben Rechter ($25,000)
- Ingram Industries ($25,000)
- Law firm Bass Barry & Sims ($10,000)
- Vanderbilt University ($10,000)
- Gaylord Entertainment ($10,000)
- Cal Turner Jr. ($10,000)
- Venture capitalist Andrew Byrd with Andrew Byrd LLC ($10,000)
- Healthways Chairman Tom Cigarran ($10,000)
- Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis ($10,000)
- Bill Freeman of Freeman Webb Real Estate ($10,000)
- Copy of Sample Ballot
- Nashville English First, website of the amendment's supporters.
- Nashville For All of Us, website of the amendment's opponents.
- Openness should govern public petitions too
- MSNBC, "Nashville voters reject 'English First' plan," January 22, 2009
- Nashville City Paper, "English Only early voting runs until Jan. 17," January 5, 2009
- New York Times, "In Nashville, a Ballot Measure That May Quiet All but English," January 10, 2009
- International Herald Tribune, "In U.S. city, a ballot measure that may quiet all but English," January 11, 2009 (dead link)
- English First website
- Tennessean, "English-Only group won't disclose finances"
- In Session, "Price tag to defeat English-only was $312,455," April 9, 2009
- Nashville Post, "Dean, Bredesen vote against English Only," January 12, 2009
- Flyer by amendment's opponents with reasons to vote against the amendment
- Nashville Post, "Conservatives debate English only," January 6, 2009
- Nashville Post, "English Only opponents on solid financial footing," January 15, 2009
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