Every other Wednesday, an interpreter attends the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting to sit in his designated chair and wait.
The position was created in late 2009 in response to a federal inquiry into the county’s potential civil-rights violation for failing to provide an interpreter at public meetings for people who speak limited English.
Community activists had complained for two years about the lack of a readily available Spanish-language translator, especially in meetings that address the immigration policies of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Since then, however, demand for the position has faded.
“I just sit there, listening to the conversation (among supervisors), and I get interested. And I forget I’m there to interpret,” said Ramon Delgadillo, a retired Maricopa County court interpreter who usually is the interpreter at the supervisors’ meetings. “It’s so funny because I sit there, hoping for somebody to use me.”
Hector Tirado, who fills in when Delgadillo is not there, has translated at just two of about 35 meetings since the position was created.
Still, county officials plan to keep the position indefinitely.
The interpreter is a precautionary accommodation, according to County Manager David Smith. It would take too long to call for an interpreter to attend the meeting on an on-call basis, he said.
“You don’t know when someone’s going to show up and need the help,” he said.
One such occasion arose at the supervisors’ April 27 meeting, when a woman opined in Spanish during the public-comment period on the Sheriff’s Office’s misspending nearly $100 million in taxpayer money. It was the second time an interpreter was needed in a year and half.
“See? It’s necessary,” Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said.
County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick estimates the county pays $4,320 a year for the interpreter position. Wilcox said it is “well worth it” to pay for an interpreter because the role is crucial when the need arises, especially with the large Hispanic population in the county.
Delgadillo and Tirado interpret at courts or school-board meetings, where translation is requested days in advance.
But at a county supervisors meeting, the public-comment period takes place on a more impromptu basis. If a speaker shows up, he or she is given 2 minutes to have his or her say to the supervisors.
Delgadillo agrees it would take too long for an interpreter to arrive at the meeting if one was requested on an as-needed basis.
So he continues to sit — and wait — in case he’s needed.
“I follow the agenda and try to get interested. Otherwise, I’d die of boredom,” Delgadillo said with a laugh.