Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted 6-3 Tuesday night to “ban the box” on the county’s employment forms for applicants with criminal records.
Approving the resolution means the county attorney will now draw up a new ordinance reflecting the change, which still must be approved by the commission at a future date.
Commissioners Larry Schlesinger, Elaine Lucas, Ed DeFore, Scotty Shepherd, Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins approved the measure. Commissioners Gary Bechtel, Mallory Jones and Bert Bivins voted against it.
Before the vote, Tillman said he hopes Gov. Nathan Deal will sign an executive order to ban the box statewide, making the commission’s vote superfluous.
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Proponents of the measure said that by banning the box on initial employment forms, people with criminal histories will have the same chance for a job as anyone else. They said the county still will perform background checks on all applicants, but job candidates will have a chance to discuss their criminal histories rather than have their applications summarily dismissed.
Bechtel said he opposed the measure because he thinks that application forms should be in the purview of Human Resources Department, not elected officials. He also said changing the form could have unintended side effects.
“It doesn’t need to be a political decision,” he said. “By bringing in politics, we open ourselves to people who may or may not be qualified.”
Jones said the Macon-Bibb County form doesn’t have a “box” per se, but rather three questions that deal with traffic violations, court violations (including military courts) and probation. Jones said the form needs to include an area for an applicant to explain the circumstances of a previous criminal act.
“I think an employer has the right to ask these questions,” he said. “They have the right to read (about a criminal background) and make educated decisions.”
Jones said he thinks people deserve a second chance and that the county has interviewed people with previous criminal history, but he noted the information was known up-front.
During the precouncil meeting, Watkins said it is important to note that Macon-Bibb isn’t going to ignore an applicant’s criminal history. Rather, the aim is to level the playing field so all candidates are first judged on their qualifications and experience, and then on their backgrounds.
Tillman said he is pleased with the vote and thinks the commission will approve the final ordinance once it is drafted.
He said a large community presence in support of the measure likely made a difference.
“The community showed us the way,” he said. “It’s the opportunity to offer the entire community a second chance. But I encourage folks to take advantage of their first opportunity and not get in trouble.”
In other business Tuesday, the commission:
named Jean S. Howard as the new clerk of the commission.
approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute an agreement with the Sizemore Group for $18,900 for engineering and architectural services at the Bloomfield Senior Center, a special purpose local option sales tax project.
approved an agreement with BBTB Inc. for $81,500 for engineering and architectural services at the Donnan Road Fire Station, to be paid with bond funds.
authorized closing a portion of Third Street Lane to automobile traffic near the downtown federal courthouse for safety reasons.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.