The Citizens for Legal Employment and Contracting has been urging the city of Novato to adopt an ordinance requiring businesses with city contracts worth $5,000 or more annually to use the Internet identification system E-Verify to check the legality of workers.
E-Verify, run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, allows employers to confirm the legal working status of new hires in seconds. The city of Novato uses E-Verify for its own employees, City Manager Michael Frank said.
The group began collecting signatures in the fall to put the issue before voters. Spokesman Jerome Ghigliotti, a Novato resident who has a law office in San Francisco, said 1,522 valid signatures have been gathered as of this week and that 2,858 - representing 10 percent of registered voters in the city - are required.
Ghigliotti's organization has had volunteers seeking signatures in front of the Novato post office and stores for several months. It has set a deadline of April 5 for the signature-gathering effort to meet the deadline for the Nov. 2 ballot. All signatures will have to be verified by the county registrar's office.
"We are feeling confident," Ghigliotti said.
Putting the initiative on the ballot will cost the city $50,000 to $70,000. The city still has time to consider passing an ordinance that would cost much less in staff time and attorney fees.
City Manager Michael Frank met with representatives of the group and said both sides were left frustrated.
"We sat down and wanted to work with them to figure out a solution that might work for the City Council," Frank said. "They were upset that they didn't get exactly what they wanted, so they said 'No thanks, we want to go to the voters.'"
Ghigliotti said the Citizens for Legal Employment and Contracting had decided to seek signatures for a ballot measure before meeting with city officials.
"City contractors should not be hiring people who are undocumented. I don't think there's a dispute about that," Frank said. "The issue is what type of financial resources the city will need to spend to enforce something that isn't the responsibility of local government. If the people want this and want us to enforce it, they have to give us the true cost of what it will take to enforce."
Novato is in the midst of slicing $5 million out of its $30 million annual budget mostly because of dwindling tax revenue.
"It is terrible timing," Mayor Jeanne MacLeamy said of the immigration issue. "We should not be distracted by anything right now."
Frank said the ballot measure will require the city to spend resources, most likely police officers, to research whether a worker is illegal or not and enforce a new ordinance.
"We believe it is the job for the INS and the federal government," Frank said.
If the initiative passes, violators would be fined $1,000 for the first offense and $1,000 each subsequent time with no maximum. Companies found in violation five times would be banned from entering into new city contracts for two years.
Rick Oltman, national media director for Californians for Population Stabilization and a member of Citizens for Legal Employment and Contracting, said he believes all government entities should be held accountable for the hiring of legal workers. Initiating an ordinance in Novato is an important step and would be noticed by the entire country if it is successful, he said. Two other cities - Mission Viejo in Orange County and Lakewood, Wash. - have passed such ordinances requiring the use of E-Verify, according to the group.
Read more Novato stories at the IJ's Novato section.
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