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Talent offers Spanish translation for public meetings

Photo courtesy cityoftalent.org

Spanish translation at Talent City Council meetings has been available for six months, an outgrowth of the Almeda fire, as city officials realized a need to connect with the Hispanic community, which has seen considerable loss of housing.

Council sessions and other meetings take place via Zoom due to the pandemic.

In addition, the city has added a community engagement component to the tasks for Hector Flores, newly hired as city recorder in January. Flores is bilingual.

“Soon after the fire they realized that need to have a lot of the information in Spanish,” said Flores. The effort includes publications in Spanish as well as the meeting translation and availability of Spanish speakers on the staff.

Support for enhanced communication with the Hispanic community was voiced by several speakers at a Sept. 24 town hall meeting on Zoom. Talent’s population is about 17% Hispanic, one participant said. At times during that session, a volunteer offered Spanish translations.

“All I’ve heard is positive feedback. It’s a great opportunity for people who are not English speakers to engage in the community,” said Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood, speaking about translation. “I can’t tell you how valuable it is. We have heard things we haven’t heard before.”

In December, the City Council approved a transfer of $13,000 from a discretionary fund to provide interpretation services for council meetings and other meetings as directed. Jenny Castillo works as the primary translator, but one other person is also available.

Zoom meetings offer the capability of additional language feeds besides the language the meeting is conducted in. At a public meeting where the service will be offered, Flores asks for those who need them to either raise their hand on screen or put a note in a chat box. The service is almost always requested, said Flores.

Zoom allows participants to change the language by clicking on an onscreen globe icon and selecting Spanish. The listener will then hear Castillo’s running translation.

“It’s simultaneous translation, which is what world leaders use when they are talking with each other,” said Flores.

Town hall sessions and city council meetings where rebuilding and housing are topics have brought the heaviest number of requests for translation services. A town hall to discuss possible use of an area in Chuck Roberts Parks to house trailers for temporary residences drew an especially large number, said Flores.

“It does take additional work to have this. You just can’t rely on city staff members to step in. They are there to participate and engage with City Council,” said Flores.

Funding to support the community engagement efforts comes from grant monies the city has received to help with fire recovery, said Ayers-Flood. The city recently added Nilda Hernandez, who is bilingual, to its staff as engagement coordinator.

Flores is a graduate of Phoenix High School and earned degrees at Southern Oregon University. He taught at international schools for a number of years in China. In 2013 he co-founded the local Hispanic magazine Caminos with his brother, Alfredo, who now owns the publication.

A request to city managers for input on translation services put out on a League of Oregon Cities listserv drew two responses, said Kevin Toon, League communications director.

Gresham offers translation services on request. The city of Wood Village has utilized staff who speak Spanish or Russian at some meetings. It has also contracted with Linguava to provide on-demand translation services that are available over the phone, if requested.

The city of Corvallis utilizes a caption and transcript service to add captions to their video recordings after meetings, Talent’s previous city recorder reported in November.

Phoenix Mayor Terry Baker said discussion of offering Spanish translation has emerged recently and that it will be a topic when the City Council holds a goal-setting session in July.

It’s uncertain how translation will be handled when in-person meetings resume in Talent. Flores said he will be checking out new audio equipment that was installed for meetings in the Community Center just prior to the pandemic to see whether it offers some options.

Baker noted that Phoenix City Council meetings are currently also screened on Facebook, and he wondered whether that might offer some possibilities for translation during in-person meetings, with some listeners using phones and headsets.

Ayers-Flood said that a hybrid of Zoom and in-person meetings may emerge as pandemic restrictions lessen. It is unlikely that meetings would return to just the former formats only, she said.

Funding for translation services is in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and Ayers-Flood said she hoped to be able to continue it going forward.

“We have heard from communities we haven’t heard from before. It is obvious it has been super valuable,” said Ayers-Flood.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.