Board adopts resolution establishing criminal background checks policy

The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has unanimously adopted a resolution that establishes a background checks policy for job applicants, current employees or volunteers. Board members took the action during their Feb. 20 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman John Troncone and seconded by Alderman Kelly Rector.

The resolution states that such background checks are “permitted” and that, “in some circumstances,” criminal history checks are required by Tennessee law. It also states that Oakland must determine whether placement of an individual in a position, or those in current positions, might create “an unreasonable risk” to other employees, the public or the town’s assets.

The policy states that, upon request, job applicants, current employees or volunteers m

Alderman John Troncone

Alderman John Troncone

ust:

(1) provide work history and personal references to be checked by the town;

(2) agree to the release of information and investigative records to the town to verify whether the individual has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to, or entered a plea of nolo contendere to any felony charge, violation of any federal or state laws or city ordinances relating to “force, violence, theft, dishonesty, gambling, liquor, sexual offenses or controlled substances;”

(3) supply a fingerprint sample and submit to a criminal history records check to be conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, another law enforcement agency or “any legally authorized entity;” and

(4) agree to the release of any information required for a criminal background investigation by a professional background screening organization, criminal background check service or registry.

The policy states that criminal records will not automatically disqualify a job applicant, current employee or volunteer. Determination of suitability based on criminal background checks will be made consistent with this policy and applicable laws or regulations.

An individual will be disqualified from employment and prohibited from service if found guilty of:

(1) any sexual offenses;

(2) felonies that constitute offenses against another person;

(3) crimes involving children;

(4) other felony offenses committed within the past 10 years;

(5) misdemeanors committed within the past seven years that constitute offenses against another person;

(6) misdemeanor drug and alcohol offenses committed within the past five years or multiple offenses in the past 10 years;

(7) any other offense committed within the past five years that could be considered a potential danger to others or that demonstrates a “propensity for violence.”

Depending on state requirements, the background checks will include a search of TBI and FBI fingerprint records and the TBI Criminal History Database, as well as the Tennessee Sexual Offender and Orders of Protection databases.

Access to the contents of the background check report will be limited to the mayor, town recorder and the town’s department directors, with the approval of both the mayor and recorder. Information collected in the criminal background check will not be part of the employee’s personnel file, but will be maintained in a separate file “under lock and key” until one year after the duration of employment. All job applicants, current employees and volunteers must sign a written consent form that allows the town to order an individual background check, which it will pay the cost of conducting.

Any employee convicted of a crime must inform the director of his or her department within five days of the conviction. Failure to do so will subject the employee to disciplinary action “up to and including termination.”

During discussion shortly before the vote, Town Recorder Tammie Hightower said Oakland currently has a policy to conduct a background check on each of its employees.

“You’ve just never had a policy to say what you were going to do with it once you got it,” she noted. “So, that’s what we’re establishing here.” Neal Halvorson, director of the Oakland Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, said he does not disagree with the policy.

But he wondered how it would affect his ability to do his job. Halvorson noted that most of his coaches are volunteers who already take a drug test but are not given extensive background checks. He asked whether the town will subject them to “this level of scrutiny.”

“If they’re working with children, yes,” Hightower replied. “And if they work on school grounds, it’s required by state law that they have a background check done.” Citing what is expected of the potential volunteers, Halvorson expressed concern that they will say it is “not worth going through this” just to coach their children’s teams.

But Hightower said it actually will not be “that bad.” She noted that Collierville and Germantown each have a “simple volunteer policy” that does not require fingerprint searches. In response to a question by Troncone, Hightower said Oakland’s policy will be conducted according to Tennessee law.

“If the state law doesn’t require a fingerprint check,” she said, “then we’re going to do the simple TBI check that I can run.” Town Attorney Richard Myers said Oakland must be very careful about putting someone with an “obvious egregious record” in a position of doing harm to the public.

“If the background check is what you need to make sure that you’ve filtered all those people out,” he noted, “then you’ve done everything you possibly can do.” But if that is not done, Myers said, the town’s immunity under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act could be “waived,” and the board members would be “personally on the hooks” for it.