During the public comment portion of the meeting, immigration enforcement activist D.A. King, founder of the Cobb-based Dustin Inman Society, praised commissioners for becoming the first county or city government in Georgia, and one of 10 nationally, to join U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program. The program goes beyond using the federal E-Verify system to check immigration status, submitting the county to initial audits and inspections of its employment procedures, but then refraining from additional audits for two years if there are no problems.
King said the county should extend the program to contractors that it hires.
“While I have serious doubts that there are a lot of illegal aliens working for Cobb County, I am sure and certain from my time in the capitol, that there are a lot of people in the country illegally working for contractors who do work periodically for the county,” he said. “Like the majority of Cobb Countians, I don’t want one dime of my money going to illegal labor if there is a tool that could be put in place that would stop it.”
But Rich Pellegrino of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, part of a small group of pro-immigration protesters at the meeting, condemned the commissioners’ decision. He said that since the county began its tough immigration stance in 2006, it has experienced budget deficits, which led to property tax increases and service cuts and an inability to recruit police officers to the county.
“So much for the law and order arguments of being tough on immigration, because it’s only hurt the public safety of this community,” Pellegrino said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how trying to drive out one segment of the community, who work hard and pay taxes here, has a ripple effect through the whole community resulting in budget deficits, the closing of businesses and so forth.”
At one point, Pellegrino referred to King as his “colleague,” which led King to interrupt to tell Commission Chairman Tim Lee that he resented the remark.
The meeting started with a presentation in which Lee signed an IMAGE agreement with Brock Nicholson, ICE special agent in charge for the Atlanta field office. Nicholson said he has been proud to partner with Cobb County, starting with the 287(g) program the agency has with the Cobb Sheriff’s Office, which allows local governments to have access to the ICE database. Since 2007, thousands of Cobb inmates have been identified as illegal immigrants.
“We applaud your forward thinking, we appreciate the partnership,” Nicholson said.
Lee said the IMAGE agreement will help prevent possible terrorist attacks and protect employees against discrimination based upon citizenship or natural origin.
“The message, if there is one, is that Cobb County takes its responsibility very seriously to make sure that everything possibly that could be done is being done to make sure the laws are being followed in our county, and to make sure there’s an opportunity for equal employment for those that deserve it,” Lee said after the meeting.
For the first time in months, the public comment portion of the meeting included remarks from Joseph Pond, who has battled through courts and commission meetings trying to allow for backyard chickens to be kept at homes on property of less than two acres. He said Tuesday that rules on backyard chickens should be set by homeowners associations, for those who chose to live in a neighborhood that has one, not by the county.
“Cobb County has 700,000 people, it is not possible for some countywide zoning ordinance to respect the rights of 700,000 people. Neighborhood associations can,” he said. “Cobb County has become much too big for micromanagement by the local government.”
In other action commissioners:
n Approved creating a Priority Industrial Area future land use category, giving the designation to McCollum Field Airport and surrounding area, the area surrounding the Colonial Pipeline tank farm near Powder Springs, area around the intersection of Mableton Parkway and Lee Industrial Boulevard and all areas in Cobb south of Interstate 20. The designation is intended to make it more difficult to zone those areas in categories other than industrial to ensure that Cobb has a competitive balance of land uses.
n Approved putting $30,000 in contingency money from the general fund into the budget for the Board of Equalization. The board has to deal with an increased number of appeals as a result of a 2010 state law that went into effect last year. The law has made more people aware of changes in their property values, which means more are appealing, leading to a heavier workload for employees.
n Approved a contract with W.E. Contracting Company Inc. of Acworth to improve dehumidification and air quality at the Mountain View Aquatic Center, 2650 Gordy Parkway. The $723,695 project is being paid for with 2011 SPLOST money. The pool will be closed from July 9 until Oct. 15 to accommodate the renovations.
n Approved a resolution creating a new enterprise zone in south Cobb, partly by combing the Veteran’s Memorial and Six Flags enterprise zones. The areas are considered to have a lack of building permits, pervasive poverty and high crime rates, making them eligible for abatements or exemptions from property or occupation taxes, as well as fees.
n Approved the submission of an application with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to expand existing opportunity zone area in south Cobb. The designation allows businesses in the areas to qualify for tax credits of up to $3,500 per job.
n Approved contract with Matriarch Construction Company Inc. for drainage system improvements on New Macland Road, near McEachern High School. The Tyrone company’s bid of $259,999 beat out Baldwin Paving Company Inc. of Marietta’s bid of $269,763 and Ohmshiv Construction LLC of Loganville’s bid of $288,483. The project is being funded with 2011 SPLOST money.
n Approved authorizing the upgrade of the Department of Transportation’s information system for $215,000. The project is being paid for with 2011 SPLOST money.