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Looking for Ways to Improve Background Checks on City Employees

By Michael Klazema on 2/2/2018
The City of Schenectady, New York is working on improving its background checks for city employees. According to an article published by the Times Union, the city has been working to implement changes since last summer. So far, Schenectady has a resolution on the books calling for city employee background checks—not a law. To access the New York state criminal history database, the city would need a law in place. Schenectady officials were prompted to change city policies after hiring several people who turned out to have criminal records. Last summer, the city terminated the employment of a housing inspector after learning he was a registered sex offender.

Before that, a city code enforcement officer was found to have criminal history he did not disclose on his job application. The code enforcement officer, Kenneth Tyree, is currently facing charges for criminally negligent homicide over a 2015 incident where an apartment building fire resulted in the deaths of four people. Tyree allegedly failed to inspect the building for code violations—an oversight that contributed to the deadly blaze.

These two incidents spurred the Schenectady City Council to pass a resolution last September that would have implemented mandatory fingerprinting and background checks of all city employees. Previously, the city had only conducted criminal background checks on public safety workers, leaving other government employees unvetted. The city’s legal counsel, Carl Falotico, told the Times Union the resolution “wasn’t good enough for the state.”

As a result, Schenectady’s city employers do not have access to state criminal history databases. If the city wants to use those databases, it will have to pass a law outlining the specifics of the required background checks. Local politicians are reportedly working on the legislation. Once the law has been authored, the City Council will call a public hearing, followed by an official vote. If the vote passes, then background checks could soon be an across-the-board requirement for city job applicants in Schenectady.

Falotico noted candidates wouldn’t be automatically turned away from jobs because of criminal history. Instead, he said the goal of the new legislation would be to learn more about potential employees and encourage candidates to disclose past criminal convictions on their job applications.

New York is one of the nation’s biggest adopters of ban the box policies. There is a state policy in place that bans the use of criminal-history-related questions from all applications for state government jobs. In addition, there are currently 13 jurisdictions in the state that have their own ban the box policies, including Rochester, Buffalo, Albany County, Syracuse, and New York City. NYC, Buffalo, and Rochester ban the box for both public and private employers.

If the new legislation passes in Schenectady, then the city would be adopting a policy that is almost the opposite of ban the box. Not only would the new law push candidates to disclose criminal histories on their job applications, but Falotico also said it would make lying on a city job application an act of perjury.

Sources: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Schenectady-boosts-background-checks-after-hiring-12513678.php http://www.nelp.org/content/uploads/Ban-the-Box-Fair-Chance-State-and-Local-Guide.pdf

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