Montesano City Council Meeting: Dial 1-800-GUI-NNESS

Monte sign

Well folks, there’s good news and there’s bad news in the ongoing saga of Montesano City Council Member Marisa Salzer and the Eternal Interpreter Quest.

The bad news: There’s no end in sight.

The good news: There’s no end in sight, but at least it was short this time. As in, quite possibly a new world record.

Tonight’s city council meeting barely got started when deaf Council Member Marisa Salzer announced that she wasn’t voting because she couldn’t understand sign interpreter Alice Akrish. Salzer made her announcement roughly a nano-second after the Pledge of Allegiance. Apparently Ms. Akrish, whose parents are both deaf and has been signing for more than 40 years, didn’t pass Marisa muster.

“She’s not certified” Salzer complained. City Administrator Kristy Powell pointed out that Ms. Akrish had signed for Salzer previously without any objections by Salzer.

“Did you not understand her at the last meeting?” Powell asked. Powell also noted that a “qualified” interpreter meets ADA compliance rules. She said, “Ms. House (former interpreter and personal friend of Salzer) called me extremely upset. She has nothing to do with the city operations and if there was a problem, Ms. Salzer should have communicated any displeasure she felt. After the call I looked for a definition between qualified and certified. After reviewing the definition (see below*), looking at her resume’, and speaking with her manager, I believe that she (Akrish) is very qualified.”

Doesn’t matter. Marisa muster is the one and only bar that matters.  And that bar moves faster than Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby.

City Attorney Dan Glenn asked Salzer if she could not understand the interpreter. When an affirmative response was received, he recommended the meeting be recessed until Thursday night, October 30, when/if the city can find an interpreter that meets Marisa muster. A motion was made, seconded and passed. The meeting was recessed before it broke double digits, time-wise.

So. What may be the quickest, most useless city council meeting since the Mayflower made landfall left city officials, friends, Romans and fellow countrymen and women crowing with glee that city business was derailed by a single-engine freight train.

Naw. Not really.

Just in case you’re wondering – and even if you’re not – Ms. Akrish signed for the last city council meeting without any complaints. Zip. Zilch. Nada. According to Ms. Akrish, she and another interpreter split interpreting duties for the October 14 city council meeting, “switching off every 15 minutes.” Akrish also signed, solo, for the Executive Session portion of that meeting. She confirmed that Salzer never complained about not being able to understand. No weeping. No wailing. No gnashing of teeth. Not a contrary peep.

So Salzer couldn’t understand now what she could understand then?

“I wish she would’ve said something then, but she didn’t need to because we could communicate,” said Akrish, who drove from Auburn to provide services for this evening’s sort-of, but-not-really council meeting. Akrish, who has a B.A. in Special Education, has broad signing experience in a variety of contexts and works through five different interpreter services. And oh yeah, the city still gets billed.

This just keeps getting better and better.

What’re the odds an interpreter that passes Marisa muster can be secured by Thursday? How’s that ice rink in hell coming? Can we get Gui-nness on speed dial?

Just for fun, you too can take about a nano-second and a half and dig this up:

*A certified interpreter may not be qualified for a particular assignment for a number of reasons. The subject area or vocabulary may be unfamiliar to the interpreter; there may be a cultural context which is unknown or uncomfortable for him/her; the deaf consumer may have particular idiosyncratic communication needs which the interpreter cannot meet.

As was mentioned before, the granting of certification indicates only that an interpreter has attained a minimal level of competence in performing the tasks of interpreting in general – not that s/he can perform stellarly in all situations. On the other hand, an uncertified interpreter may be qualified to interpret in some situations. Some people, through family, deaf community involvement, or training, have good interpreting skills, but have either not taken or not successfully passed a certification exam. However, because of specialized knowledge, or extensive background with a particular deaf consumer, an uncertified interpreter may be able to perform better than a certified interpreter in some situations.

What’s that again about “reasonable”?

Stay tuned.