Council Approves Contract to Expand Spanish Translation Services

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Members of City Council meet for B-Session. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Members of City Council during B-Session at the Municipal Plaza Building.

City Council unanimously approved a contract Thursday with local business Solis Translations, LLC. to provide Spanish translations for all written City Council A and B Session agendas, memos, and select news release documents.

The contract with Solis Translations is for one year, but it can be renewed and extended with three additional one-year periods. The move comes after the City Council adopted the 2017 fiscal budget, which includes several measures to enhance the City’s current Spanish language translations and interpreter services efforts.

At present, the City translates essential documents like budget highlights and Municipal Bond information guides. Since April 2016, the City has included on-site Spanish language interpreters at all development services boards and commission meetings. Interpreters have been available at all City Council meetings since September 2016.

Ezequiel Quijano Sr. and his son, Ezequiel “Zeke” Quijano Jr., serve as interpreters at City Council A sessions.

“We have a mask that has an integrated microphone so that we can communicate with the people listening to us,” Ezequiel Jr. said. “Thanks to the mask we can talk at full volume without bothering the people beside us. Through the transmitter, people can listen in on their earphones.”

From left: Son Ezequiel "Zeke" Quijano and father Ezequiel Quijano, Sr. provide interpretation services at City Council B Session through the use of a hand-held device.

Rocío Guenther / Rocío Guenther

From left: Son Ezequiel “Zeke” Quijano and father Ezequiel Quijano, Sr. provide interpretation services at City Council A Sessions through the use of a hand-held device.

Council also approved the expenditures for interpreter services with Translators USA, through May 2017, until an RFP process to consider other interpreter services is complete.

“We already have a contract with a company that provides interpretation services,” said Assistant City Manager Maria Villagomez, “but now we are doing a competitive process and opening it up to give an opportunity to other companies who are interested in providing that service for the city,” she said.

The City also is hiring a Public Engagement Officer to better engage the Spanish-speaking community. The individual, fluent in Spanish, will be responsible for media relations and community engagement to promote, support, and integrate community involvement into City governance.

“The PEO will help reach out to the community to make sure they know the service is available,” said Jeff Coyle, the city’s director of government and public affairs. “That person will find out what the barriers are and what people want to see in their city government. This is a learning process, and going forward the goal is to have more San Antonians involved in [city decisions].”

Spanish is the second most used language in major cities such as Miami and Los Angeles, Coyle said, and 30% of San Antonians use Spanish as their primary or only language. Currently, more than 1,600 City employees are fluent in Spanish and are able to assist Spanish-speaking citizens.

“Over 63% of San Antonio’s population has Hispanic or Latino roots,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report Thursday. “When English is a second language for many citizens, it is difficult for them to understand what is happening during a meeting – especially a meeting filled with technical details like a City Council meeting. Matters under consideration by the City are important and can involve technical issues…this is about understanding and is so critical to good governance.”

The councilman made a Council Consideration Request (CCR) in February 2016 after he and his staff talked to constituents and noticed a lack of on-call translators at City Council sessions and other public meetings.

“I’m happy this is moving forward,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “As a world class city we need to make sure we are open to all people and we’re inclusive here. ”

Spanish was the first non-native language spoken in the region and used primarily by the first mayors of San Antonio during its first 100 years of municipal government.

“The first language in the city of San Antonio was not English,” Viagran said. “They actually had to translate from Spanish to English for our records here, so this is a natural adjustment.”

Treviño said he hopes translation services will be expanded to public safety departments such as emergency calls to 911, and that A and B Sessions will be available on the City’s government channel in both English and Spanish sometime in 2018.

“Thank you so much councilman [Treviño] for your leadership on this effort … ” Mayor Ivy Taylor said. “Estamos muy agradecidos.

The RFP for interpretation services will open Friday and council is expected to vote on a contract in May. Once the contract is finalized, all City departments will be able to utilize interpreter services through individual department budgets.

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