In a stunning reversal of newly passed legislation, the D.C. Council has voted to exempt council employees from receiving background checks. The council decided earlier this year that newly hired city employees would need to submit to background investigations, including credit checks, for employees "whose primary duties are of a policy determining, confidential or policy advocacy character." This was in response to allegations of careless hiring practices.
However, language that was put into the 2013 budget by Council Chairman Kwame Brown states that council staff members would be exempt from the new law. This could put the council in a conflicting position with Mayor Vincent Gray, who arranged for more thorough screenings of his staff members after it was discovered several of them were hiding criminal pasts.
Although the council members will be exempt from receiving background checks, according to David Zvenyach, general counsel for the legislative body, he is working with Chairman Brown to build a new policy for the background search process. Zvenyach explained that the proposed exemption was in order “to fix a previous oversight” in the law, and Brown supports “clean governance.” Even a temporary suspension of the background check policy has some raising eyebrows. “I think it’s bizarre,” states former federal agent Thomas Martin. Martin, who now runs Martin Investigative Services, is “puzzled” over why any government body would make such a decision. According to an official who wishes to remain anonymous, there were complaints by council members that the searches were too “administratively onerous, time-consuming, [and] expensive.”
But recent events seem to indicate that the background checks are necessary. Councilman Brown is currently under investigation, and the reversal was passed less than two weeks after a councilman went to prison for taking money from the city. Plus, there have been repeated allegations of corruption charged against non-elected District employees. Six council aides were recently implicated for receiving unemployment benefits while on the city’s payroll, and in the past decade there have been guilty pleas from other city employees for offenses ranging from bribery to embezzlement. Martin believes this kind of history more than warrants the requirement of background searches for council members. He thinks that they “absolutely, 100 percent need to” conduct the checks due to the ongoing problems of corruption in the District. Perhaps they should take a cue from Dayton, Ohio, as referenced in the article Dayton Making One Hundred Percent of City Positions Background Check Required.
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