The Fremont City Council held first reading Tuesday of an ordinance that seeks to remove sections of an ordinance that makes it illegal to harbor illegal aliens, require renters to acquire occupancy licenses and enforces the harboring provisions.
The ordinance repealing the housing portions of Ordinance 5165 will undergo two more readings on Nov. 12 and Nov. 26.
With the housing portions working their way through court challenges – recently being upheld by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals – the city has not yet enacted them.
Provisions of the ordinance requiring the use of E-Verify have been implemented.
Twenty-two people addressed the council after the repeal’s introduction, with 17 of them opposed to the repeal.
“You already know what the peoples’ wish was because they told you in a voting booth,” said Bob Warner of Fremont.
Warner was the city council member who introduced the illegal immigrant ordinance in May 2008, only to see it fail on a 4-4 vote before being passed in a June 2010 referendum initiated by a petition drive.
“I’m very disgusted to hear that the city council is even thinking of repealing this ordinance that we worked very hard for,” said Jon Wiegert, who helped circulate the petition that brought Ordinance 5165 to the 2009 election.
“You’re totally going against the will of the people and the decisions of the courts,” Wiegert said. “To think that you would use one of the best lawyers in the nation to represent us, and he’s won every court decision, and then you turn around and you stick it to him, and the citizens of Fremont who voted for this, it’s despicable.”
Wiegert said any council member who voted for the repeal would face a recall effort.
State Sen. Charlie Janssen, a candidate for governor, was on the city council in 2008 when Warner introduced the ordinance.
“The voters of the ordinance (in 2009) overwhelmingly approved this ordinance 57 percent to 43 percent,” he pointed out.
“This wasn’t something that was just put in there by one faction or one part of the city, this was overall,” he said.
“It’s not about illegal immigration, it’s about listening to your constituents,” Janssen said.
“If you want to do something,” he said, “throw it back to a vote of the people, see where they’re at.”
Jerry Hart, who helped circulate the initiative petition in 2009, said council members Todd Hoppe, who owns rental properties, and Jennifer Bixby, a Realtor, should abstain from voting on the ordinance due to conflict of interest.
Scott Meister, president of the Greater Fremont Development Council, said Ordinance 5165 has painted Fremont with a difficult-to-overcome image of prejudice and intolerance, and supported the repeal move.
“Contacts at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership have shared that the negative perception of our immigration ordinance negatively impacts our ability to market the community to prospective businesses, and that removal of the housing portion of the ordinance would make Fremont much more appealing to its prospects,” Meister said.
Ron Tillery, executive director of the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber board issued a position statement in support of repealing the housing portions, “mainly because we think that there are provisions within this ordinance that simply don’t achieve the end in a practical way that the ordinance is intended to achieve.”
The Chamber, he said, supports the E-Verify portion and has worked closely with its members to implement it, “and we think that over time that portion of the ordinance actually addresses the concerns that are related to the housing component.”
Cecilia Harry, who moved to Fremont two months ago when she became executive director of GFDC, said Ordinance 5165 was the “one ugly component” of Fremont she and her husband saw before moving to the community.
“Fremont appeared perfect, inviting and everything we wanted, but one obvious flaw made us question the rest of the package,” she said.
“How many talented young people with a lifetime of earnings ahead of them take one look at Fremont, perceive it to be a prejudiced exclusive community, and decide to look elsewhere?” she said.
“We have to do what’s right for Fremont, we have to do what’s right for growing this town, continuing to build this town. … You guys are being mindful of how to grow Fremont,” Jennifer Greunke of Fremont told the council.
City officials, after the meeting, told the Tribune they may not be opposed to taking the matter to another public vote, but that option has not yet been discussed.
Mayor Scott Getzschman said introducing the repeal on Tuesday was intended to allow council members to start hearing what the public has to say, and then consider how to proceed.