The Marietta City Council on Wednesday opted to follow the Cobb Board of Commissioners and city of Acworth by signing up with a federal program that helps ensure that tax dollars don’t go to those not authorized to work in the U.S.
The council voted 7-0 to apply for certification with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, program.
In February, Mayor Steve Tumlin said it wasn’t enough for the city’s employees to be IMAGE certified — the contractors and subcontractors the city does business with should also hold that certification.
Yet Wednesday’s vote only applies to city employees.
Tumlin said after the meeting he hadn’t changed his mind about contractors.
“This is what I’d like to call the first step from my personal point of view,” he said. “Now we’ve stepped up and said we’re willing to look at our own I-9s. We’re willing to subject ourselves to penalties and fines to be in compliance with the law in order for lack of a better word to go to step two.”
After the city becomes IMAGE certified, the time will be right to move ahead with asking contractors and subcontractors to seek that certification as well, he said.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners recently went through a bruising debate on the topic.
Last year, the county applied to become IMAGE certified for its 4,200 full- time employees and 850 part-time employees, a goal it achieved March 28. Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell wanted to require contractors to sign an affidavit pledging they would become IMAGE certified as well, a proposal that was shot down by County Chairman Tim Lee and commissioners Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid.
The opposition argued that it could put the county at a disadvantage during the bid process. And indeed Lee said WellStar Health System had notified him it would not enroll in the IMAGE program even if the county adopted the ordinance.
Tumlin said that debate became so heated that now was not the time to consider contractors.
“I think on the heels of all the rancor and mayors and D.A. King calling each other names the timing would have been so bad,” Tumlin said.
Goreham said in the next month or two she will be asking the Board of Commissioners to approve a committee of citizens and staff that would look at best practices for ensuring the county doesn’t hire those in the country illegally. Goreham said she’s having the county’s lawyers and the other commissioners review a draft of her proposal before she brings it forward for a vote.
“There were allegations made that the county was hiring illegals, OK?” Goreham said. “And so to address those allegations and ensure that we are doing all that we possibly can be doing as a government I think it’s of importance to review and look at our practices to address those allegations. Now those allegations may turn out to be baseless, OK? But I don’t see any harm of doing a review of our present practices to indeed show that we are doing all that we’re doing and perhaps there’s something more that can be done, but I don’t believe it’s mandating that every contractor and subcontractor should be IMAGE certified in the manner that our legislation reads, which was assuming that these contractors are guilty and they had to be proven innocent.”
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood said he was meeting with an ICE agent on Friday to sign the official application for Acworth to move ahead with the IMAGE certification process for his city’s employees.
Like the county, Allegood said his city had no plans to require contractors to become IMAGE certified either.
“If everybody had to be IMAGE certified then they would have to make applications, and let’s say it took them six months to be certified,” Allegood said. “Well, you wouldn’t do any work for six months.”
Allegood’s comment would be accurate if certification was required before a municipality hired a contractor. But the Birrell-Ott proposal simply required contractors to sign an affidavit pledging that they would apply for certification, not that they had to be certified before doing whatever work the contract stipulated.