Lee and Commissioner Helen Goreham, along with county attorneys, will meet with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Rick Beamish and ICE attorney James McHenry at 11 a.m. Wednesday to review a proposal that would help crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants.
The proposal would require contractors doing business with the county to apply for certification under the federal IMAGE program. The program’s purpose is to certify that the contractor employs only U.S. citizens.
County spokesman Robert Quigley said the meeting is closed to the public. The Board of Commissioners is not required to hold public meetings unless three or more commissioners are in attendance.
Ott said Lee should open the meeting to the other commissioners on the board and the public.
“I see no reason why the meeting can’t be open since it’s such a volatile issue by a lot of people with a lot of different opinions,” Ott said. “To me it would be a benefit to everybody in the community to know what ICE thinks about it, and I think it would be beneficial to all the commissioners to hear what the gentleman has to say.”
Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Ott, who back the code change, need a third commissioner’s support for it to be approved. Lee has expressed reservations about the proposal, while Commissioners Lisa Cupid and Goreham say they haven’t made up their minds on the topic.
Immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society, who has helped the county author the code change, said he is dismayed by the closed meeting.
“This is clearly a fishing expedition to find anything that can be perceived as a negative outcome of becoming IMAGE certified to use in (Lee’s) program to hold up the county ordinance for contractors,” King said. “I think it’s clear that Tim and Helen are up to no good.”
If their intentions were simply to learn about the proposal, why do it in secret, King asked.
“I’m not surprised, but I am extremely disappointed that the level of openness in our government seems to be rapidly declining,” he said. “I agree with Commissioner Ott that this should be an open meeting, and personally I can’t understand why as a person who wrote the ordinance that I’m not being allowed to attend.”
Yet Goreham, who said she was invited by Lee to attend the meeting, said she didn’t realize it was going to be closed to the public.
“I’m thinking there’s got to be a reason for why it’s closed. That is a question for the chairman,” Goreham said.
Goreham said she is attending to learn more about the IMAGE program.
“My position on IMAGE is that I support it,” Goreham said. “I support American jobs for American citizens. What I’m still looking at is the exact wording for our ordinance. The details. The devil is in the details right now. And I’m not satisfied with the details. I’m a supporter of IMAGE, but right now I’m still up in the air as far as Cobb County’s ordinance and the details of the implementation of that ordinance. There are a lot of details in the implementation side that have not been addressed or even discussed.”
As for Ott wanting the meeting to be open, Goreham said, “If that’s his desire, then he needs to work to that end. If he wants it as an open meeting then he needs to take that up with the chairman and work to that end.”
In an email to the MDJ Tuesday evening, Lee wrote, “county legal staff and I are performing due diligence in looking at the proposed code changes. Part of that process is getting our lawyers and those that run the program for ICE at the same table for a discussion, and I make no apologies for that.”
IMAGE, or ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, is a voluntary partnership initiative between the federal government and private-sector employers. ICE developed the initiative as a way for employers to achieve a “lawful work force” through self-policing of their hiring practices.