Newly Elected School Board Member Calls Background Check Requirement a "Conflict of Interest"

By Michael Klazema on 1/7/2015

When an applicant, employee, or even a newly elected official refuses to submit to a background check, most would assume that they have something to hide. That may or may not be the case with a recently elected school board member in the Atlanta, Georgia area, though. That's because the official in question has not issued a blanket refusal or protest of all background checks, but rather of ones that he believes to be a "conflict of interest" given the people who would be running them.

The official in question is a man, officially elected to the DeKalb County School Board in November 2014. He was supposed to be sworn in during the first weeks of the New Year. Now, though, it's unclear how he will begin his post as a member of the board, especially since he is not willing to follow the usual policies for board members and background checks.

Normally, members of the DeKalb County School Board are required to submit to fingerprinting and background checks, which are run by the school district itself. In this case, though, the newly elected board member has refused to submit to a screening because he thinks the school district shouldn't be running checks on board members.

"It is a conflict of interest to be investigated by the agency I was elected to oversee," he said.

In other words, he wants the background check to be done by an impartial third party. Specifically, he has offered to comply with a background check and fingerprinting process if the local DeKalb County Police Department performs both. He even offered to put his background check reports from the police department online after he receives them, for all to see.

The maneuver is a risky one for any employee to take. It's especially risky for a publicly elected official. At worst, some of the school board official's constituents will assume that he is trying to hide a skeleton from his past. The offer to post his background check reports online is obviously meant to diffuse such speculation. Still, though, the speculation will remains, especially because the county police check that the man is offering to submit to wouldn't necessarily find crimes committed in other counties or outside of Georgia.

The board member's protests may also just be a waste of time, since it is unlikely that DeKalb County School District runs all of its background checks in-house anyway. Instead, the district probably has a contract firm that handles all employee background checks, the same kind of impartial third-party that the man in this situation is suggesting. The only difference is that the background checks from a contract firm would likely be a good deal more thorough and farther-reaching than a single police department check.

So what gives? Is the newly elected school board member here actually trying to hide something? Is he putting his foot down and trying to show that he cares about privacy and fairness? Or is he just misguided in his conception of how background checks work? Only time will tell, of course, but right now, it's tough to understand his motivations.


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