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Warning: That Jacksonville or Tampa city employee you deal with may be a criminal

In 2008, the Jacksonville City Council adopted an ordinance reforming both its hiring procedures and its contractor bidding policies. In July 2009, the City’s Human Resources Department released the revised standard. In 2010 Jacksonville revised its screening summary for city employees and contractors.

The directive states that department heads will “not inquire about or consider criminal background check information in making a hiring decision.” Instead, “criminal information disclosure is required as part of the post-offer new hire process.”

The application instructions even encourage people with a criminal record to apply for city jobs.

The criminal background check screening is centralized in the City of Jacksonville Human Resources Department. Moreover, the screening process requires taking into account the specific duties of the job, the age of the offense, and rehabilitation. Denied applicants may appeal to Human Resources. Contractors are required to tally job opportunities for people with criminal records and report back to the City.

On January 14, 2013 Bob Buckhorn, the Mayor of Tampa, signed the ban the box ordinance approved by the City Council which covers city employees. Advocates in Tampa continue to work on expanding the ordinance to include city contractors. The Tampa Ordinance 2013-3 may be viewed by clicking here. The Tampa ban the box program is administered by Sharon Streater HOPE lead organizer, from the Direct Action & Research Training Center.

This effort is part of the Ban the Box project and National Employment Law Project. The ordinance only applies to the City Jacksonville employees. As of April 2013 there are fifty cities in twenty-one states that have implemented some form of Ban the Box ordinances. California, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts have statewide Ban the Box legislation.

For a larger view click on the map.

According to its website, “Ban the Box is a nationwide effort to remove criminal history inquiry; i.e. ‘the box’ from employer job applications. All employers have the right to know an applicant’s conviction history but the inquiry should be deferred until later in the interview process and not utilized as an automatic bar to employment at the application stage.” [Emphasis mine]

WDW – FL contacted both the City of Tampa and Jacksonville to determine how many people with criminal records have been hired as city employees and in the case of Jacksonville by contractors. According to Sharon Streater who administers the program for Tampa she has no data as the program is new. However, Streater did state that the disclaimer in the city announcements for job openings saying those with criminal records need not apply has been deleted.

The City of Jacksonville Civil Service and Personnel Rules and Regulations (revised in 2010) states:

The following are examples of extraordinary situations in which an employee may be immediately suspended without pay:

1. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs on the job.
2. Use of alcohol or illegal drugs on the job or during the employee’s work day, to include breaks and lunch period.
3. Commission of an act which constitutes a felony offense or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude under the criminal laws of the State of Florida or Federal Government. [Emphasis added]

The question: Are those Jacksonville public employees and contractors with criminal records given access to sensitive citizen information?

As Milton Friedman wrote, “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

Tipping the public sector job market to favor convicted criminals is problematic at the least and dangerous at the worst.

But, voters, like in the case of Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, re-elect criminals from time to time but that is another story. BTW Washington, D.C. passed a ban the box ordinance in 2010.

EDITORS NOTE: WDW – FL contacted the City of Jacksonville and is awaiting a reply on how many city employees and contract employees have been hired since 2008 who have a criminal background. When that information is made available this column will be updated.