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‘Ban the Box’ plan fails in Quorum Court

‘Ban the Box’ plan fails in Quorum Court


‘Ban the Box’ plan fails in Quorum Court

JP storms out in tirade after defeat of measure

Crittenden County voted down a proposal to “ban the box” which would have removed a question asking job applicants to disclose whether they have been convicted of any felonies, but justices indicated they would be willing to consider it again with certain revisions.

The ordinance, which was introduced by Justice Hubert Bass and modeled after one in Memphis, would have prohibited the county from unfairly discriminating against hiring applicants who had a previous felony conviction by making sure the county has fair measures and practices in place when screening job seekers.

The county currently does not have a blanket prohibition against hiring convicted felons, but does have a box on its applications requiring applicants to check whether they have been convicted of a felony.

If the applicant checks the box, they are then given a chance to explain the nature of the offense.

While many of the justices supported “ban the box,” several indicated they had reservations about requiring background checks on all applicants.

“This does more than just take that question off of the application,” said Justice Vickie Robertson, who chaired the meeting in Judge Woody Wheeless’ absence. “This adds a lot of other procedures in.”

According to the proposed ordinance, except in certain areas such as law enforcement, which require their employees to be bonded as a prerequisite to employment, the county would not be allowed to ask about any prior felony convictions until after the applicant was determined to be qualified for the position.

The county would then be required to conduct a background check after a conditional offer of employment had been made.

In making a decision whether to hire, the department head would have to take into consideration the nature of the crime, the amount of time since the conviction took place, and the degree of rehabilitation and good conduct of the applicant.

The county would also be required to notify the applicant of the results of the background check and the applicant would then be allowed to rebut the findings if the offer of employment is withdrawn because of the results.

“It is one thing to say you are going to take the question off the application,” Robertson said. “It is a whole other thing to put a whole lot of extra stipulations in. Now every department is going to have to do this. It is going to cause a longer period for filling the vacancy.”

Robertson added that she is troubled the most by the requirement to offer the applicant the job first before doing a background check.

“I think that is backwards,” Robertson said.

“If think you need to do your check first before you make an offer. The way the ordinance is written, you are offering the person the job before you have done a background check.”

The county does not currently require a background check of job applicants.

Justice Lorenzo Parker questioned why the county would want to ban the box if applicants were still going to have to pass a background check anyway.

“If you get the person in a mindset that they have a chance for the job and a background check comes back and then it disqualifies them, then what is the purpose?” Parker asked.

“You are not eliminating discrimination. He or she is still getting discriminated against. So what is this ordinance eliminating? In my mind it is just giving them one more step to be discriminated against.”

DeAndre Brown, a Memphis pastor who helped pass ban the box in that city, said the goal of ban the box is to remove discrimination

against hiring

convicted felons.

“I am very happy with the way you all speak about employment in Crittenden County,” Brown said. “I am encouraged you don’t discriminate already. But the reality is some people already have biases which don’t show up until the opportunity presents itself.

What we did in Memphis was remove those biases.

Dr. (Martin Luther) King used to say that you can’t legislate morality. But you can legislate behavior.

What we attempted to do there is people may not have had the ideology that everybody deserves a chance. We changed the law so everybody has a chance.”

Brown said banning the box does not mean an employer can not still require a background check as part of the employment process. All it does is move it further down in the hiring process.

“What we were seeing is when people checked the box, they didn’t get any further,” Brown said. “So what we are saying now is that banning the box is not going to be your first determination. This way, it only disqualifies you if the crime is directly relating to the job. For example, if you are applying for a job on the road crew and have a conviction for theft, that wouldn’t disqualify you.”

Bass said he talked to the department heads in the county and all were in support of the ordinance.

“They all supported this,” Bass said.

Bass pointed out that Justice Ronnie Marconi’s nephew was able to get a job in Memphis because of ban the box.

“His nephew could not get a job in Memphis until they passed this,” Bass said. “I believe this is a good thing.”

According to Marconi, his nephew fell in with a bad crowd when he was 18 years old and was convicted of a drug offense.

“After he did his time, he had a hard time finding a job,” Marconi said. “He is now 26. When ban the box was passed, he applied for a job and got it. It really helped him.”

Justice Stacy Allen said most of the county’s jobs are with the Sheriff’s Office and felons wouldn’t be able to apply anyway.

“It’s not like the county is the largest employer anyway,” Allen said. “Our largest employer is the Sheriff’s Office and you know they can’t do away with ban the box. Most people if they are a convicted felon aren’t going to go out and apply for a job at the Sheriff’s Department. They may apply for the Road Department. And they will probably get hired.”

He said ban the box supporters should direct their efforts to Marion and West Memphis and private employers like Bosch and Family Dollar warehouse.

Brown, who had a past felony conviction himself, added that ban the box gives hope to a group that doesn’t have much hope of getting a job.

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“I know it may seem symbolic,” Brown said. “But it is more than that to somebody who has a record.

There are some things that make you apprehensive about applying because you feel like you won’t get a fair shake. This would give individuals in that situation the knowledge that there is hope, that there is a chance. They may not receive employment from the county.

But at least they have the chance to get a job somewhere. Up until that, I didn’t have a shot.”

County Attorney Joe Rogers said he supports the ordinance’s intent, but is troubled by mandating that the county must conduct background checks.

“I think some valid points have been made here,” Rogers said. “In principle, I think it is a good thing. I really do. And I think a lot of people on the court do.

But the devil is in the details.”

The ordinance failed to pass with only Bass, Ronnie Marconi, and Joe Marotti voting in favor.

An infuriated Bass vented his anger against Robertson and all of the court’s black justices, all of whom voted against the measure.

“You old Coon,” Bass said. “I’m tired of you. I’m sick of you. And all you niggers are still coons just like I called y’all. I’m gone. I’m out of here.”

Bass then stormed out of the meeting.

“Thank you,” Robertson said to Bass. “Because we’re not going to have this.”

“He should have been arrested for disorderly conduct,” an agitated Allen said.

Parker told Brown that while he supports the idea of ban the box, the ordinance needs to be revised.

“I would even be willing to work with you on an ordinance that is tailored to fit our needs,” Parker said.

“Come on back because we want to work with you,” added Justice Tyrone McWright.

Justice Lisa O’Neal agreed.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” O’Neal said. “If we fix the wording, I think it has a good chance of passing.”

By Mark Randall

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