English isn’t the official language of Kootenai County, at least not yet.
Kootenai County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to table a resolution mandating English as official county-speak. Only Commissioner Ron Rankin, who pitched the proposal, voted against putting the issue on hold.
Commissioner Dick Panabaker said he was caught off-guard by Rankin’s resolution and needs time to think it through. “While I agree with this in part, I’m very unsure about the ramifications legally,” Panabaker said.
“I want to know whether there is a problem here or not,” he said. “I would like to know if the people in this county really want us to do it.”
Rankin suggested a newspaper poll to gauge public support. Beyond that, the commissioners’ legal counsel advised “that it is not illegal and is not contrary to the Constitution or the law of the state of Idaho.”
Rankin also unsuccessfully sought to get a date when the resolution might be reconsidered.
Commissioner Dick Compton sided with Panabaker in wanting more time to study the proposal. The commissioners also need to discuss the resolution with other elected county officials, he said.
Rankin trotted out the English-only idea Monday, voicing fear that where there’s bilingualism, government is forced to spend unnecessary money. First it’s multiple driver’s manuals, then it’s ballots in seven languages and “the cost is out of sight,” Rankin said.
Proof of the creep of such mandates is in the Federal Highway Administration’s new requirements that road signs have distances in miles and kilometers, he said.
Human rights activists criticized Rankin’s proposal, saying it just reinforces North Idaho’s racist reputation.
“I’m surprised to see it come up,” said Tony Stewart, a member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. “When you bring an issue like this up, it doesn’t help the image and impression” of North Idaho.
Killing the measure instead of tabling it would have sent a stronger positive message, added Stewart, a political science instructor at North Idaho College.
Stewart also questions whether the country has the jurisdiction to declare one language official.