By Jeff Clark
The Columbus City Council on Tuesday will discuss a new employee hiring policy which includes the omission of the city’s ban on hiring convicted felons. The new hiring language, which will have to passed by a majority vote, was created by an exploratory committee of Ward 6 Councilman Kabir Karriem, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, City Attorney Jeff Turnage and human resource director Pat Mitchell. The committee was appointed by Mayor Robert Smith as part of a 5-1 motion to remove the language banning felons from city employment. The motion was made April 2 by Karriem. Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voted against the measure.
Under the new consideration of applicants, the ban on hiring felons is removed and applicants with a criminal background will be allowed an opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding his or her conviction. Other factors, including the nature of the crime and the elapsed time from the point of conviction will also be considered.
The committee also added language to protect its police department and Columbus Fire and Rescue. According to the new guidelines, a convicted felon who has not had his firearm rights restored and therefore cannot attend the police academy will not be considered for employment with the Columbus Police Department. Columbus Fire and Rescue is also protected under this clause as it has the right to hire certified law enforcement officers.
“This does not affect us in any way,” said Police Chief Selvain McQueen. “We are already protected from this. This will probably only affect departments like public works or the beautification people.”
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, who was initially hesitant to vote to remove the ban, said he was comfortable with the committee’s recommendations.
“I think it’s pretty solid,” Box said. “I’m glad to see the police and fire department are protected.”
Karriem, on Wednesday, said he is pleased with the committee’s actions, which will have the city in compliance with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“This gives convicted felons a fighting chance to get hired by the city,” Karriem said. “I hope this will be passed by the council but you never know with City Hall. I just think everyone deserves a second chance. Hopefully, this will set a precedent across the state and other municipalities will follow.”
Karriem brought issue before the council April 2 with the support of both Smith and Turnage. According to Turnage, the city was subject to lawsuits had the language not been removed from the handbook, citing a study by Jackson attorney Mark Fijman as the catalyst for removing the ban to hire felons.
“(The paper) says that an out and out ban on a person that has a felony conviction brings the potential to have a discriminatory impact on minorities,” Turnage said April 2. “Statistically, minorities, particularly black minorities are more likely to have a felony conviction than whites. You have two types of discrimination under (EEOC) Title VII — discriminatory treatment and discriminatory impact. While the no felony policy was drafted without any intent for discrimination, it may have a discriminatory impact on minority races and therefore a flat out ban like we have could be illegal under Title VII and could lead to us being sued. I don’t see not taking it out as an option.”
Armstong said Turnage drafted a policy that will prevent discrimination based on an applicant’s past and protect the city from possible litigation.
“Jeff added some very fair language,” Armstrong said. “It’s basically word-for-word what the EEOC is strongly recommending. It doesn’t mean someone is going to get hired just because they are a convicted felon. It is simply leveling the playing field for the applicants.”
District Five Supervisor Leroy Brooks said Lowndes County, to his knowledge, is in compliance with the EEOC and does not have ban on hiring convicted felons.
“It’s never been something we’ve stressed,” Brooks said. “We are just looking for people who are willing to do the work.”
Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley could not be reached for comment.
CONSIDERATION OF APPLICANTS
The Human Resources Director, after discussion with the department head, may reject any application that indicates on its face that the applicant does not possess the minimum qualifications for the particular position.
Applicants will be rejected if:
⁃ The applicant is not medically fit to perform the duties of the particular position. All applicants are subject to a physical examination by a City approved doctor after an offer of employment has been made.
⁃ The applicant is addicted to the habitual use of drugs or intoxicants
Consideration of Criminal Background:
⁃ The City is sensitive to the fact that having a policy that completely eliminates from consideration those applicants with criminal backgrounds has the potential to violate Title VII and that national data supports a finding that a total exclusion of consideration based on a criminal record has the potential for having a disparate impact based upon race and national origin.
⁃ The City of Columbus will employ a targeted screening process for hiring, consistent with business necessity. In doing so, the City will employ several factors in determining whether to employ persons with a criminal background, including, but not limited to the following:
⁃ The Nature of the Crime;
⁃ The Time Elasped from the point of Conviction; and
⁃ The Nature of the Position sought by the Applicant
In using the targeted screening process based on business necessity, the City shall inform, the applicant that he may be excluded because of past criminal conduct. However, The City shall provide each applicant an opportunity to demonstrate to The City why he or she should not be excluded based upon whether the conviction would not relate to the job the applicant is seeking or that his exclusion is not consistent with the City’s business necessity. For example:
Applicants will be given the chance to show:
⁃ That the criminal record found by the employer was not actually that of the applicant and that he was incorrectly identified;
⁃ The facts or circumstances surrounding the offense or conduct;
⁃ The number of offenses for which the individual was convicted;
⁃ Older age at the time of conviction or release from prison;
⁃ Evidence that the applicant performed the same type of work post-conviction or release from confinement;
⁃ the length and consistency of employment history before and after the offense or conduct;
⁃ Rehabilitation efforts, e.g. education/training;
⁃ Employment or character references and any other information regarding fitness for the position sought by the applicant; and
⁃ Whether the individual is bonded under a federal, state or local bonding program.
In the event the applicant whose background check indicates convictions fails or refuses to respond to the employer’s attempt to gather additional information about his background, as described above, the City may make its decision without consideration of the above referenced information.
⁃ A convicted felon who has not had his firearm rights restored by the federal or any other governmental agency may not possess a weapon or firearm. Therefore, he would not be able to attend and complete the State Police Academy.
⁃ An applicant for employment with the Police Department for a position as a sworn officer may not be considered for employment unless the applicant can, as a threshold matter, show that he is exempt from the prohibition on the carrying of a firearm. If the applicant can show his right to carry a firearm, then the City will employ the same analysis it performs for other applicants for employment with the City, taking into consideration the compelling business necessity of requiring the utmost trust and confidence in the honesty, independence and morals of the City’s sworn officers.
⁃ No applicant for a potition in the Fire and Rescur Department as a certified fire fighter may be hired for that position if convicted on a felony basis for which includes, but is not limited to the following reasons:
⁃ Certain positions within the Columbus Fire and Rescue require that the employee be a certified law enforcement officer, Thus, the provisions governing the hiring of sworn Police Officers, above, shall apply tot he hiring of certified members of the Fire and Rescue Department, who are to be certified by law enforcement officers.
⁃ Rule 1.04 of the Mississippi Minimum Standards and Certifications Board for State Fire Personnel provides that certification shall be withheld if the application for certification has been convicted of a felony, unless the application has a favorable ruling from the Board of the Mississippi Minimum Standards, after petitioning same, which ruling provides that the conviction is no longer detrimental to the public trust or no longer creates an adverse perception of the fire fighter’s ability to perform his sworn duties.
⁃ If the applicant for a position as a certified fire fighter for the City can show that his conviction is no longer detrimental to the public trust or no longer creates an adverse perception of the fire fighter’s ability to perform his sworn duties and is approved by the Board of the Mississippi Minimum Standards for completion of the Certification process, then the City will employ the same analysis it performs for other applicants for employment with the City, taking into consideration the compelling business necessity of requiring the utmost trust and confidence in the honesty, independence and morals of the City’s certified fire and rescue personnel.
⁃ Rule 1.12 of Mississippi Minimum Standards and Certifications Board for State Fire Personnel provides that certification shall be revoked if the recipient of the certificate has been convicted of a felony.