- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Gaithersburg officials have canceled plans to build a day-laborer center in the historic downtown following public outcry and Montgomery County’s decision yesterday to pull out of the deal.

“This solves the concerns for this one site,” Mayor Sidney Katz said.

County and city officials reached an agreement last month in which the county would secure a 5-year lease for an empty building in Gaithersburg’s Olde Town section.

However, a letter yesterday from Bruce Romer, the county’s chief administrative officer, stated the county will now offer the space to somebody else or terminate the lease because the city appears to be “backing away from its commitment” to the center.

“We feel obligated to protect our investment and seek other solutions to meet this demonstrated community need,” Mr. Romer wrote.

Mr. Katz acknowledged the city wouldn’t be able to fulfill its part of the bargain because of escalating repair costs at the 17 North Frederick Ave. site.

He cited resident opposition to the site for being too close to a neighborhood as another reason for canceling the plan.

Many residents have complained for months about the existing situation, in which many of the illegal aliens and other day-laborers engage in such offensive behavior as urinating and drinking in public while waiting for work, at the Grace United Methodist Church, just blocks from the formally proposed site.

However, they were equally upset about church, city and county officials joining in about a dozen meetings without them to resolve the problem.

Mr. Katz attended the meetings, but City Council members also were not invited. Officials said the meetings were open, but have acknowledged mishandling the delicate situation.

“What I’m going to suggest is that we do it the way that we need to do, which is to have the community sit down with us, to have many more people sitting at the table to come up with a solution,” Mr. Katz said.

Prentiss Searles, among the roughly 30 Olde Town residents who rallied to stop the plan after it was made without their input, said officials have now made the right decision.

“They have said they are going to open up the process, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I’ll look forward to working with them to find the best solution to how we can help the day-laborers.”

The letter from Mr. Romer to City Manager David B. Humpton also stated the county originally was willing to help because it agreed with the city and the community that such a center was needed and because the county has successfully run similar centers in Silver Spring and Wheaton.

Gaithersburg is not alone in the nationwide struggle to deal with illegal aliens and day-laborer centers. In Northern Virginia, Herndon residents are split over a recent decision by town officials to open a center to keep day-laborers from loitering outside a 7-Eleven.

A Montgomery County spokesman said Thursday that County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat and likely gubernatorial challenger to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., thinks the federal government should handle issues concerning illegal aliens.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said earlier this week that he would be open to proposed state legislation to bar illegal aliens from day-laborer centers.

Vice President Henry F. Marraffa Jr. of the Gaithersburg City Council has a similar concern. He said the proposed center would have been an illegal operation and that the city might have faced legal problems for providing illegal aliens with employment and identification cards.

“The whole thing has not been handled correctly,” he said. “We need to get it out in the open. …Now the cap has blown off and everybody is dancing around.”

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