Town Reviews Day Labor Site Options

Town Reviews Day Labor Site Options

Council members still hope for "smooth transition" of day labor sites in wake of funding termination.

As the sand in the hour glass for Herndon’s day labor site continues to run down, Town Council members are considering a number of options for managing the town’s immigrant temporary worker population ahead of a potential termination of funding and legal operating permits next month.

Fairfax County Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville) and Herndon Mayor Steve DeBenedittis have exchanged letters dealing with the possibility of the reinstatement of the funding for the Herndon Official Workers Center, which county officials last week announced would be terminated.

"The Town is concerned that the result of the County terminating the funds will be negative to the County, the Town, Reston Interfaith, Inc. and its employees, and the day workers," said Debenedittis in his letter, dated Aug. 10. "The center serves day workers in western Fairfax County and without a regulated assembly site informal day worker sites again will form throughout western Fairfax County and could jeopardize the Town’s ability to enforce its anti-solicitation ordinance."

DuBois responded to that letter on Monday by requesting an open public session for the discussion, approved by a vote from council members.

"Considering the controversial nature of this funding and the allegations by one of the Council members that … the county infringed on the Town’s sovereignty, I would request that the Town Council take a vote on pursuing such a meeting in open session so we can be assured that the majority of council members agree with moving forward in this fashion," she wrote in the letter.

As of Tuesday, no action had yet been taken in response to DuBois’ request, according to Herndon town clerk Viki Wellershaus.

THE MOST PREFERABLE outcome for the town would be for the county to provide funding to aid in the transition between the current arrangement with the Herndon Official Workers Center and a potential new operator that will check for worker residency status, according to Vice Mayor Dennis Husch. County officials had cited Husch’s repeated public objections to their original decision to extend funding to the site as one of the primary reasons for its elimination.

"I want Fairfax County to help Herndon to bridge this era between what we have now and a new operator for the site," Husch said. "If they want to work with us, that’s fine, if not, we can look at other options."

Finding a new operator might not be too far on the horizon.

Herndon resident Dennis "Butch" Baughan, who submitted the sole proposal in response to a town request for new site operators in town earlier this month, has been instructed by the town to lock down an official site financing plan within 60 days, according to Husch.

The Town of Herndon "contacted me and spoke about the different things that I needed and I’ve been working with the town to get those things in to them," said Baughan.

Baughan has already applied for several state grants to find funding for the site, he said. Baughan’s earlier proposal to operate the site had been rejected by the town last month, as it did not meet certain criteria.

Negotiations between a proposing party and the town are a normal part of a procurement process and may include formal and informal advising from elected officials, according to Diane Erway, purchasing agent for the Town of Herndon.

If a proposal is deemed to be responsive by the staff, the Town Council will vote on the proposal, Erway added.

The status of the sole proposal being reviewed by the town was originally scheduled to be announced at the council’s Aug. 14 public has been postponed, according to Herndon public information officer Anne Curtis.

IF A SETTLEMENT cannot be reached with the county to provide funding for the site to continue operating, a range of other options exist to deal with the town’s day laborer population ranging from assigning town staff employees to the site to simply leaving it open for solicitations absent a vendor, said Herndon Town Council member Bill Tirrell.

"There could be the possibility where we have no operator in the site, but workers can still go there to solicit work," Tirrell said, "or the town can put in town staff members to watch the site … checking for work authorization status."

If informal worker gatherings begin to emerge or workers return to street solicitations in the absence of the current site, the town could enforce zoning ordinances and criminal trespassing charges, or "a legislative process to declare a public nuisance" could be initiated, DeBenedittis wrote in an e-mail.

Keeping the site operating as it has been is very important for the town’s management of day laborers, said council member Harlon Reece.

"If we don’t find a way to keep it open, I think that the result is quite bad for our community," Reece said. "Where are these folks going to go when they’re back out on the streets?"

"So I’m certainly hoping that they might try and keep this site open."

According to court rulings and several statements from town officials, Herndon’s ordinance prohibiting street work solicitations cannot be legally enforced without a designated area open for solicitations. Herndon has been actively pursuing a new site operator that would check for work authorization status since the beginning of the year.