New Jersey Borough Deals with Recreation Background Check Issues

By Michael Klazema on 10/30/2014

The Borough of Dumont, New Jersey is forming a committee that will be responsible for Recreation Commission bylaw changes after recreation-related background check issues caused chatter in the community. The issue involved three coaches who were allowed to work with kids despite background checks that indicated criminal history or were never filed correctly. The three coaches, who were all local youth sports volunteers for the Recreation Commission, have been sent letters revoking their permissions to coach.

The Mayor of the community has refused to disclose the names of the three volunteers, which sports they helped to coach, and what sort of criminal offenses led to their dismissal. However, one of the three coaches has come forward, and is surprisingly a candidate currently running for Town Council. The candidate's criminal history of a sale of a controlled substance's conviction from way back when he was a teenager, had already come out in the course of his political campaign.

The Town Council candidate says he followed protocol and disclosed his criminal record to the Recreation Commission. However, Recreation Commission officials are telling a different story, saying that the man improperly filed his criminal history disclosure. As a result of this improper filing, the recreation department launched background checks of several coaches, ultimately flagging the three coaches that have now been banned from volunteering with youth sports.

The findings also led to the organization of the committee that will now decide how the Recreation Commission should handle background checks going forward. What sort of checks should be run on volunteers? And how will background check findings be used to approve or disqualify volunteers? The new committee will answer these questions, among others.

Borough officials were right in this case to do their due diligence and respond to what they thought were red flags on the records of coaches. They saw something suspicious, and decided to run extra background checks to make sure that local kids were kept safe.However, the borough's way of going about the process showed a lack of organization that is far more worrisome than a man with a decades-old drug charge coaching a youth football team.

New Jersey state law says that volunteers can be disqualified from working with youth sports teams or other youth organizations if they have a criminal history including violence, any acts against family or children, theft, or any involvement with illegal substances.

However, state law also allows individuals with such criminal charges to be cleared as youth service volunteers by a police chief, which is what happened with two out of the three coaches in this situation. In other words, the borough ran background checks to find criminal histories that had already been disclosed, and sent letters to disqualify coaches who had already gone through the necessary steps to gain coaching approvals.

The problem is one of poor records. If the borough and the Recreation Commission of Dumont can't keep track of volunteers who have disclosed their criminal history and been cleared to coach in spite of it, then how can they hope to keep track of any sort of background check system? How can they know who has received background checks and who hasn't? How can they remember whether or not paperwork has been filed correctly? This story proves that, while rigid background check policies are needed, organization is needed even more to make those policies effective.


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