Goreham, who held a town hall meeting at the West Cobb Senior Center on Thursday night, saw a turnout of about 70 residents. Another 25 county employees attended the meeting as well, said county spokesman Robert Quigley.
Many of the residents who spoke had either not heard of the proposed code change that the Board of Commissioners is set to vote on Tuesday or they agreed with Goreham that it was a bad idea.
Derrick Brown of Kennesaw, who is in the IT industry, said he hadn’t heard of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers before Goreham spoke about it. But after the meeting, Brown said, “I don’t like the sound of it. It’s just an extra layer of bureaucracy that Cobb County businesses don’t need and Cobb County government doesn’t need to be able to compete effectively.”
Brown referred to it as an “anti-business proposition.”
Goreham paced back and forth in front of the audience, her voice at times trembling with emotion as she criticized the code change proposed by Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott.
“She was so loaded for bear when she stood up there, I’ve never seen Helen more angry or more nervous,” said Laura Armstrong of west Cobb, who was among those in attendance.
On two occasions during her talk, Goreham inaccurately described how the Ott-Birrell proposal would work.
“This ordinance mandates that every business, company in Cobb County becomes IMAGE certified,” Goreham said.
In fact, the code change would require only the contractors doing business with the county government to apply for certification. The proposal also doesn’t require them to become IMAGE certified, as Goreham claimed, but says they must apply for certification.
During her talk, Goreham complained about “a lot of uninformed comments regarding my position,” in the press, which is why told the audience she wanted to speak to it directly.
She also complained that the time it takes to become IMAGE certified is too labor intensive. It is true, she acknowledged, that there is upfront cost of applying for certification.
“Now I’ve got the actual paperwork, and it’s about seven or eight pages where you have to describe programs and describe all this,” she said. “There’s no processing fee. But for a business the size of Cobb County with 4,100 employees, we’ve already invested 450 man-hours in this process. Which there is a cost. I don’t care what’s said out there. My HR people are not sitting around reading People Magazine and eating bonbons if they’re not working on IMAGE. But it’s a thought out there that my staff has all this free time that they can dedicate 450 man hours and there are no costs associated with it.”
In response to a statement Goreham made, Bob Wise of Powder Springs asked if there hasn’t been a case of illegal immigrants working at the county since they were caught at the courthouse a few years ago, why is the county considering the proposal.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” Goreham said. “That’s why I can’t support this mandate to every business in Cobb County in eventually blacklisting companies, and it’s kind of assuming that everyone’s guilty of hiring illegals until you’re proven otherwise.”
Goreham said there are perhaps five or so major companies in the U.S. that build the kind of large sewer infrastructure projects that Cobb utilizes. She asked what if all but one of those firms refuses to enroll in IMAGE. That could raise the price of the project and risk an unqualified company carrying out the work, she said.
Rita Connell of Marietta asked Goreham for the names of the commissioners who are proposing the code amendment, which Goreham provided.
“So because we agree with you, could we call their offices or call people we know who live in their areas and ask them to call?” Connell asked Goreham.
Goreham said they could.
Goreham also promoted her idea that a task force be formed to study the issue further.
“We’ve had ordinances such as zoning – I’m going to throw out conservation subdivision or open space subdivision – and we formed task forces before we even entertain an ordinance,” Goreham said. “And on an issue as major as this and the ramifications, we haven’t even formed that committee before formulating an ordinance, and I’m mystified to why that hasn’t taken place.”
Goreham shared her thoughts as to how the meeting went afterward.
“The ones that spoke, I think the question that really stands out is the question ‘why are we doing this,’” Goreham said. “If you noted that was asked several times, and if it ain’t broke why are we trying to fix something that’s not broken? That’s what I’m coming away from this meeting with.”
Armstrong said after the meeting she was surprised no one spoke up about Goreham’s error in describing the Ott-Birrell proposal as something required for all businesses.
“I don’t think they had any idea what IMAGE was,” Armstrong said of the audience. “She portrayed it as being something that was just not even discussed or not even debated at all. She characterized IMAGE as something that was just tossed out there with no debate, but didn’t make it clear that it was something they had already voted on last year. She practically libeled Bob Ott in the meeting publicly. I don’t think the crowd necessary understands that this is only about protecting jobs that are taxpayer-funded jobs in the county.”