Pittsburgh Borough Institutes Background Checks Requirements for Board and Commission Members

By Michael Klazema on 9/29/2014

Baldwin Borough, which is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has instituted new background check requirements for volunteers or appointees serving on the area's public boards and commissions. A councilman for the Baldwin Borough said that the change was being put in place to prevent the chance of an "unsavory character" being allowed to publicly represent the borough. The checks will be required for the local city planning, civil service, and shade tree commissions. Members of the zoning board and the community standards board will also be required to complete the background screenings.

Given the support that the background check idea received from the Baldwin Council, it's surprising that checks weren't already in place for area commission members or board members. The council approved the measure in a 6-0 vote.

So far, the background check policies for local commission and board members have only been drawn out in skeletal form. Through which registries will the checks be run? What sort of criminal history will bar someone from representing the borough? The board also hasn't decided what to do about any volunteers who have active warrants out for their arrest. All of these items will undoubtedly be discussed in the coming weeks as the Baldwin Council designs a more concrete policy for how to handle any volunteers who end up having criminal histories.

One thing that has been decided is how to handle existing board and commission members versus new volunteers. In many cases, when an organization implements new background check policies, existing employees and volunteers are "grandfathered in" and not required to go through the new checks. Such policies please longtime employees, who view the decision as a show of respect and trust. However, a safer and more security-conscious policy is to have all employees or volunteers, both new and existing, complete the new checks.

Baldwin Council has opted for the latter option with new background check stipulations. All current commission and board members, some 40 volunteers, will be required to undergo background checks. However, for those existing volunteers, the borough will pay the $10 fee associated with the checks. New volunteers, meanwhile, will have to pay for their own background screenings.

The council has also said that it will not force any existing board members to undergo checks. If current volunteers feel that the criminal screening policies are an invasion of privacy, they can opt out. Of course, someone opting out would also mean resignation from public service for the borough. Since the council plans to request background checks around the end of the year, this policy should work nicely. At the end of each year, existing board and commission volunteers are already asked if they want to continue serving in the new year. This year, those who do want to continue serving will merely have to complete the background check.


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