The Rome City Commission is split over the issue of having a question about felony convictions at the top of their employment applications.
Several residents are working in conjunction with a group called Opening Doors on a nationwide push to “ban the box” applicants are asked to check if they’ve served time.
A discussion during the board’s Monday caucus revealed widespread sympathy, but no consensus on the change.
“I realize ex-felons can be good workers ... but we are stewards of what happens in the city,” said Commissioner Evie McNiece.
“It’s my choice in my business, but we are not the owner here and we have a responsibility to the citizens and employees of Rome,” she added.
Terri Morgan told the board that studies show employers are 60% more likely to dump an application with a checked box without asking about the person’s qualifications.
Georgia is among the 35 states that have banned the box on their applications, she said — and 13 states and 18 cities have extended the prohibition to the private sector.
“We know that employment is key to reducing recidivism. It is the No. 1 factor in keeping people from going back to prison,” Morgan said.
Eliminating the box would not affect background checks or stop interviewers from asking about criminal convictions during the hiring process.
Kristy Childre, Rome’s human resources director, said their policy is to focus on experience and other factors first. And every commissioner pointed with pride to the city’s record of hiring ex-felons when they’re a good fit for a job. But some said the box alone is a deterrent.
“There is an overwhelming sense that, if the box is there, the applicant is seen as a felon and not as a person ... We don’t know how many people have walked away without applying,” Commissioner Wendy Davis said.
Commissioners Milton Slack and Sundai Stevenson spoke of the need to give people a second chance, and the value of workers they’ve hired who have learned from their mistakes. Mayor Bill Collins also weighed in.
“We send people off to get rehabilitated and rejoin society ... The box is an opportunity to prejudge,” Collins said. “I don’t think we should do it as city leaders.”
Several business owners in the audience noted that some jobs — such as handling money or driving hazardous materials — have statutory prohibitions that mean the workers have to be cleared of convictions for a certain number of years.
But TK Hamilton, Diane Lewis and Ira Levy also said many jobs don’t have the restriction and they consider it a question for later in the hiring process. Lewis also mentioned the community service program in the courts.
“We allow people to contribute to our community when they’re working for free,” she noted. “We might want to take that into consideration.”
Commissioners Jamie Doss, Craig McDaniel and Randy Quick, however, said McNiece’s point is valid. There’s a responsibility to protect residents, visitors and the city’s employees, they said.
“I don’t believe in denying a person for having a felony ... but I think we need to know up front,” McDaniel said.
Collins assigned the issue to the General Administration Committee chaired by Doss for further review.