Birrell and Ott originally proposed an ordinance that would require all contractors doing business with the county to apply for certification under the federal IMAGE program, which helps ensure that employers hire people who are legally able to work in the United States.
IMAGE stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.
Lee has expressed reservations over the IMAGE program, and on Wednesday Goreham suggested a “carrot” rather than a “stick” approach. Instead of requiring contractors to apply for certification, Goreham suggested creating an incentive program that awards points to companies that bid on county projects if they have applied for such certification.
Lee said he thought it was a sound idea and worth looking at deeper in the next couple of weeks. “I like the approach of having it incentivized as opposed to punitive,” he said.
Cupid also liked Goreham’s suggestion.
“I thought that was a reasonable alternative,” Cupid said. “It certainly conveys that the county is concerned about making sure we have people who are legal citizens working on our projects without unduly limiting people who want to do business with the county but may have operational challenges in implementing IMAGE.”
If Cupid and Lee end up voting for Goreham’s proposal, that’s all the votes she needs for it to pass.
Birrell said she spoke with Goreham about her idea on Thursday and has a number of questions she’s waiting on the county attorney to answer.
“I’m just not sure that an incentive program or points system would work for something like this,” Birrell said. “I mean, hiring illegals on job sites is against the law, so we’re not creating anything new. We’re just trying to enforce what’s already there.”
Birrell said she is concerned that if all the obstacles Goreham listed about the Birrell-Ott proposal are accurate, why would any contractor go to the trouble of signing up for IMAGE certification on a voluntary basis.
“My whole reason and issue with being a cosponsor of IMAGE is to make sure that we have companies doing business with Cobb that are compliant with the law,” Birrell said. “We’ve done it as a county. We’ve signed up to be IMAGE-certified, and now we’re asking or requiring the businesses that have contracts with Cobb to do the same. It’s against the law. It’s a federal law. And if it’s up to us to enforce it, then we need to do our part.”
One of the concerns Goreham raised with the Ott-Birrell proposal was how long it takes to become IMAGE certified. But if that’s a problem, Birrell said she’s happy to extend the timeframe for certification to a reasonable period of time.
Ott said he planned to sit down with Goreham and discuss her proposal as soon as possible. But from reading what she said Wednesday, Ott said he agrees with Birrell.
“All we’re asking is that we get the people that get county money, the public’s money, who do work for the county to have legal employees, i.e., follow the law,” Ott said. “I don’t think anybody is asking any less than they simply demonstrate that they’re following the law.”
As for Goreham’s suggestion of having a points system, Ott echoed what Birrell said about why any contractor would bother seeking IMAGE certification if they didn’t have to do so.
“This is about ensuring that the jobs that are available for people to have, the people that have them are legal to be here, and being IMAGE certified or applying to be IMAGE certified is simply saying that we want the companies that give public money, people’s money, to be following the law,” Ott said. “And I think anything short of that is still rewarding companies for not following the law.”
Ott said Goreham’s concern about needing to use a company in an emergency who hadn’t applied for IMAGE certification was easily handled by revising the ordinance.
“Her plan does absolutely nothing because it doesn’t change it from the current system because nobody else has to apply,” Ott said. “If there’s all the negatives that she’s implying about IMAGE, why would any of them apply to it then when they know that they could still apply to a contract, and they would know that they could still apply for a contract, and they just wouldn’t get any points like anybody else. That, to me, I don’t see what the incentive is. There’s no carrot there.”
Whatever happens, Lee said he wants the matter decided by Feb. 26.
“I am definitely going to push for us to deal with the issue once and for all, whether that means Ott’s proposal or Helen’s proposal or none at all,” Lee said. “I am going to push to bring it to closure at that meeting on Feb. 26. We need to deal with it and move on to the next issue.”