The board will consider forming a committee on March 26 that looks at the best ways to keep county funds out of the hands of illegal immigrants.
County Chairman Tim Lee said Commissioner Helen Goreham plans to ask the board to adopt a resolution forming the committee at its end-of-the-month meeting.
“It’s in response to the proposed IMAGE code amendment, inasmuch as three of us felt that was not a good policy, so she just wants to put a committee together to look at the issue to make sure that we as a county are doing everything we should and could be doing that’s within reason and is effective and efficient,” Lee said.
Last month, Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott asked the board to approve a code change that would allow federal agents to review the hiring records of county contractors to ensure employees are legally able to work in the U.S.
The program is called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE.
Lee, Goreham and Commissioner Lisa Cupid killed the proposal, however.
One of the arguments Lee used in voting against the proposal was that WellStar Health System had notified him it would not enroll in the IMAGE program even if the county adopted the ordinance. Lee said that would put the county in a bind because WellStar provides medical services to inmates at the county jail at a discount.
Lee has refused to reveal the name of the person at WellStar who told him the system would not participate under IMAGE.
When asked about the issue, WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster responded with an email Friday, “Per your phone call today; as you know the Cobb Board of Commissioners voted down the IMAGE program on Tuesday the 26th. Thus, this is non-issue and WellStar has no comment on it.”
Bowermaster did say providing medical services to people incarcerated in the county costs WellStar more than $1 million a year. WellStar has multiple contracts with the county.
While Bowermaster considers it to be “non-issue,” Birrell said she continues to get emails and comments from constituents, the majority of whom believe the code change should be adopted.
“I still support the IMAGE program. I mean it’s already in place. It’s a federal tool to help us make sure that we are in compliance that are contractors are not hiring illegals,” Birrell said. “It’s unfortunate that it didn’t get adopted or approved a couple weeks ago, but I would be willing to look into whatever we can do to help enforce this.”
Birrell said she interviewed the in-house attorney for Chick-fil-A, Kelly Ludwick, who told her what a positive experience it was for Chick-fil-A to enroll in the IMAGE program. The 1,400 employees at Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters, which include some restaurants, are IMAGE certified, Birrell said.
“Everybody knows Chick-fil-A is out there in the forefront of almost everything,” Birrell said. “It’s a good Christian-oriented family type business. They’re good corporate citizens wherever they are. They follow the law.”
Birrell said while implementing the IMAGE code change is still her first choice, she will give careful consideration to the proposed creation of the immigration committee.
Lee said he hasn’t discussed with Goreham who should be on the proposed immigration committee yet, but one person he does not want on it is immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society. King led the charge in advocating for the code change to be adopted.
“Committee members need to be open minded to all sides of the issue when evaluating,” Lee said, in describing why he did not want King on the committee. “Therefore, you need people that are less affiliated with specific points of view. Look at from all sides, not just from one perspective.”
For the same reason, Lee said he would not want Rich Pellegrino of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance on the committee.
Lee said he was unsure what the timeline of the committee would be.
“It’s a high profile issue in the community,” Lee said. “We have a responsibility to assure the community that we’re doing everything we possibly can within reason to protect their tax dollars.”
Goreham did not return calls requesting comment.