Incident Pushes California State Town to Require Background Checks for Volunteer Committees

By Michael Klazema on 10/30/2014

The town of Desert Hot Springs, California is thinking about requiring background checks for volunteers serving on local committees and commissions. The proposal follows a recent incident in which an applicant to one town committee was found to have a criminal record for making terrorist threats.

The applicant in question had previously been charged for making extremist terrorist threats at Missouri State University. Specifically, the man had pledged to eliminate minorities on the Missouri State campus, including blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals. He served jail time for that particular offense, after which he adopted a new name and moved to Desert Hot Springs. Recently, he filled out an application showing interest in leading a Human Rights Committee in town.

Needless to say, the issue here isn't just that the applicant had a criminal record, but rather that his crime proves clearly that he is not fit to serve any kind of human rights role. The man is the administrator for the Desert Hot Springs Human Rights Committee group on Facebook, and has been leading a push to make the group an actual committee in town. The public committee has not yet actually been formed, and it is unclear if it ever actually will be.

While the Human Rights Committee remains in limbo, the Desert Hot Springs City Council is discussing a new screening policy that would require volunteers applying for local committee or commission roles to submit to background checks. The council is still in the process of brainstorming the policy, from how the checks would be run to the way in which background check information would be taken into account to approve or deny applicants.

Some council members are gun shy about making any absolute rules about criminal history and committee service. One member, for instance, said that committees are a good way for people to give back to the community, and that everyone should have an equal opportunity to volunteer on such boards.

However, as the incident at hand has proven, not everyone should have an equal opportunity to serve on every community. The applicant for the hypothetical Human Rights Committee had an offense on his record that showed he was a prejudiced and potentially dangerous person, in other words, who should never be given an opportunity to run a Human Rights organization of any type. Undoubtedly, there are other individuals out there whose criminal offenses directly impact their fitness for serving a particular committee role.

The incident also proves just how much background checks are needed for situations like this. Who knows what sort of ulterior motives the aforementioned applicant had in leading a human rights committee? Was he trying to atone for past mistakes, or was he trying to spread his dangerous beliefs about minorities? It's difficult to say, but it's lucky a background check cut through his alias and found out about his past. However, such luck can't be counted on every time. It is therefore important to get a concrete background check policy in place and stick with it.


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