MARIETTA — Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham is the third board member to come out in favor of requiring all contractors doing business with the county to apply for federal IMAGE certification.
The proposal has the backing of Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell and would change the county’s code to incorporate language about the federal initiative, which stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.
Rob Hosack, the county’s community development director, explained what that proposal means during Tuesday’s board meeting.
“If the proposal goes forward, folks will have to provide an affidavit that says they have submitted an application for the IMAGE program and that they intend to comply with all of the requirements of the IMAGE program by a date certain,” Hosack said.
Two public hearings will take place on the code change on Jan. 22 and Feb. 26 to give residents an opportunity to speak about revisions to the proposal. Ott and Birrell hope the proposal will then be approved on Feb. 26.
After five residents spoke in favor of the proposal during the public comment portion of the board meeting on Tuesday, the Journal asked Goreham if she would support the code change.
Goreham said while she wants to examine the exact language of the proposed code change, “in theory,” she also supports having contractors “and subcontractors” who do business with the county become IMAGE certified “because it ensures that official citizens of the U.S. are afforded job opportunities that might otherwise go to illegal immigrants, and in today’s economy it’s very important that our citizens are gainfully employed.”
Newly elected Commissioner Lisa Cupid said she was still researching the issue and had not yet made up her mind. County Chairman Tim Lee said he, too, is still doing research.
“I will be considering all points of view and input from the community and staff as we get towards the end of the month,” Lee said. “This is a very important issue, and we want to make sure that we have made the right decision, and we’re going to make sure we weigh all factors before we move forward.”
Asked if he was leaning toward opposing or approving the proposal, Lee said, “At this time I am not leaning one way or the other. We’re still in evaluation.”
Birrell explained why she was pushing the proposal for county contractors to become IMAGE certified. She pointed out the county itself already applied to become IMAGE certified last year.
“Now that the county is IMAGE certified for our hiring practices and employees, I feel that we need to have our contractors and the businesses that do business with Cobb County be IMAGE certified to make sure that the jobs that are available in the county are going to our citizens,” Birrell said. “I think it’s a good program, and it’s an extra tool that we can use to verify legal citizens to be able to employ in the county not just from the county but our contractors who do business in the county.”
Birrell said she’s heard nothing but support for the proposal.
Ott said he’s heard some say adopting the proposal is bad for business.
“Instead of saying it’s bad for business, it’s good for the people that need a job, and I think that’s really important,” Ott said.
Immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society was first to address commissioners on Tuesday. He praised the county for becoming IMAGE certified last year, or as he worded it, for adopting, “the no cost, free-to-use, job protection, phony-hiring document detection device offered by the federal government called the IMAGE program.”
King called on commissioners now to mandate that the contractors the county does business with apply for certification as well.
While the E-verify program the county uses verifies the status of newly hired employees, the IMAGE system examines older hiring records, King said.
“I respectfully submit that ladies and gentlemen that you have an opportunity here to fundamentally change the state of Georgia and not just Cobb County by leading the way again in protecting jobs for our poor, our unemployed and our working poor by requiring contractors to do the right thing to make sure their past records are in order and to certify that they’re using the E-Verify system by requiring them to be IMAGE compliant before their bid is accepted,” King said. “This will have a ripple effect all over the state of Georgia, and I think that the business lobby who is very much against this realizes that, and I predict that there will be a heck of a fight coming from the Chamber and the contractors lobby.”
The Journal asked the Cobb Chamber for its position on the issue.
Greg Morgan, the partner-in-charge of the Atlanta office of Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC, who is also the Chamber’s chairman for 2013, wrote in an email, “The Cobb Chamber is a member organization representing Cobb’s thriving business community. At this time, our members have not asked the Chamber staff to study this issue. While we may not have an official stance on the IMAGE program, the Cobb Chamber always supports the notion that local business leaders need to follow the law.”
King told commissioners all he’s asking is for contractors to file the application to become certified in the federal program, a process he estimates can be done in a few hours time.
King was followed at the meeting by Jan Barton of Marietta, Joyce Schumacher of Marietta and Michael Opitz of Marietta, who all urged adoption of the proposal as well.
“We all know that illegal immigration in this country is a major problem both from the standpoint of cost as well as the damage to our society,” Opitz said. “It is very important to understand that here in Georgia, we know about the problems with illegal immigration in Arizona, but Georgia has more illegal immigrants than Arizona does, so it’s important that we eliminate as many magnets attracting illegal immigrants to Georgia as we possibly can and especially to Cobb County.”
Opitz said it’s a matter of protecting jobs for Georgians and other Americans.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, told the Journal the proposal is a bad idea.
“Does Cobb County really want to force all businesses that conduct business with the county to actually invite federal law enforcement agents to oversee their employment operations?” Gonzalez asked. “This is Big Brother at its worst.”
Gonzalez said businesses in Cobb “will certainly” choose not to do business with the county government if they are required to undergo the certification. And that may make Cobb County taxes go up because of the limited competition of available vendors.
“Cobb County will place itself in a competitive disadvantage and create greater bureaucracy for the business community,” Gonzalez said.
He said immigration reform is coming this year.
“Is Cobb County wasting its time on something that will not have an impact towards the end of the year?” he asked. “Cobb County Commissioners should spend their time on other important matters rather than attempting to regulate immigration at the local level.”