- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Herndon Town Council public hearing on the future of a taxpayer-funded day-laborer center moved toward midnight last night, as dozens of speakers signed up to discuss several proposals including a provision to require the center’s new operator to verify workers’ legal status.

The council has applied for a temporary permit extension for the site’s operator, Project Hope and Harmony, which does not verify employment eligibility, while the town procures a new operator for the Herndon Official Workers Center that would be required to check legal status.

“We’re happy that the Town Council is taking a step closer to bringing the center into full compliance with the law,” said Aubrey Stokes, founder of the anti-illegal-alien group Help Save Herndon, in an interview before the meeting.

The hearing, the last item on the council’s agenda, began shortly after 10 p.m. At that time, 47 persons had signed up to speak, with more possible, including representatives of Help Save Herndon, Help Save Loudoun, Help Save Manassas, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of Virginia and day-laborer and illegal-alien advocates.

Advocacy groups bused in more than 100 day laborers from outside Herndon. The workers, predominantly Hispanic men, and their supporters wore pinned signs that read, “Keep HOW open! Why put them on the streets again?”

“Everyone has their right to say what they want and to be heard,” Mr. Stokes said. “However, I would suggest and hope that the Town Council would focus more on the people it’s affecting in the community.”

Project Hope and Harmony’s two-year permit with the town expires Sept. 15. Herndon officials have issued three requests for proposals for a new operator and currently are reviewing one proposal from Help Save Herndon member Dennis Baughan.

The proposed permit extension would allow Project Hope and Harmony, a program of the nonprofit social-service organization Reston Interfaith, and a new operator to jointly run the center for up to one year.

Herndon’s anti-solicitation ordinance requires the presence of an organized day-laborer site in order to remain in effect.

But Reston Interfaith officials yesterday submitted a 30-day notice of intent to close the center because of Fairfax County”s recent decision to terminate a $175,000 funding contract.

County officials earlier this month announced plans to pull funding because Herndon Vice Mayor Dennis D. Husch accused the county of infringing on the town”s sovereignty.

In a letter to Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis, Reston Interfaith CEO Kerrie Wilson and Vade Bolton, chairman of the group”s board , said they may consider continuing operation if funding negotiations between Herndon and Fairfax County are successful.

The permit extension does not require Project Hope and Harmony to verify workers’ legal status, but it includes provisions that the nonprofit disagrees with.

“Some conditions are changing which are not to our liking,” Director Bill Threlkeld said.

The resolution includes amendments requiring Project Hope and Harmony staff to distribute information to employers about fair-labor practices, employer responsibilities and federal employment guidelines, and information to workers about income-reporting requirements and applications for Social Security or tax identification numbers.

Mr. Threlkeld said during the meeting that providing workers with information is a good idea, but that the employers who visit the center are mostly homeowners who are not interested in employment law.

“We are not opposed to providing employers information they want,” he said. “There is no demand from them.”

The center opened in December 2005 and serves about 100 workers each day.