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City studies ‘ban the box’

Washington’s City Council wants to study whether it should “ban the box” when it comes to applications for city jobs.
Council member William Pitt brought up the matter at the council’s meeting Monday. The “box” refers to where an applicant makes a check mark if he or she has been convicted of a criminal offense other than something such as a speeding ticket. On the city’s job application, the wording is “Have you ever been convicted of an offense against the law or forfeited a bond?”
Pitt said the issue has made its way to the N.C. General Assembly.
“For those not familiar with ban the box, what it simply asks is that the box on the employment application that states ‘Have you been convicted  of …’ be removed until such time as the job offer has been made to a potential candidate,” Pitt said. “This does not mean we’re not going to do background checks. It means we will still do the exact same things that (we’ve been doing). However, those folks who have been previously incarcerated, once they see this box, they’ll be more intimidated than the average citizen because they pretty well know if they mark ‘Yes’ … they won’t be having the same level playing field.”
Pitt said he believes removing the box would give someone who’s got a criminal past “a better piece of mind” that he or she has equal chance at getting a job with the city or other municipal or county governments. A similar initiative was approved by Cumberland County and Durham County, Pitt noted.
Pitt said the ban-the-box initiative sends a message that a government is willing to do more than just talk about helping rehabilitate criminals seeking to turn their lives around.
“We don’t ignore the fact they’ve committed crimes and done (bad) behavior, but what we’re saying is that if you have recovered and done the things that are correct, then we want you to come for our city and we’re going to treat you as a fair employee,” Pitt said.
Councilman Bobby Roberson responded by saying, “In essence, what we’re doing — I appreciate the presentation — is shifting the responsibility from the applicant to the Human Resources Department to do a better job, not that they don’t do a good job, in researching in more depth the individuals who come into the final selection process. … I’m not opposed to that. I’m just telling you that’s what you’re going to look at. In shifting the responsibility from the applicant over to the city to be sure we’ve got everything, our T’s are crossed, our I’s are dotted, then there’s an opportunity that if we miss one and hire somebody — and they’ve got some other issues — and then they harm one of our local citizens, then the responsibility comes back on the city, and I understand that.”
Roberson said he’s going to look long and hard on the ban-the-box issue before making up his mind about it.
Councilman Doug Mercer said he concurs with Roberson’s view on the matter. When an applicant checks the box indicating he or she was convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic offense, it alerts the Human Resource Department this applicant has something in his or her background the city may need to investigate in the future.
“I see the pros and cons for both sides of (banning) the box,” said Councilman Edward Moultrie Jr.
Mayor Archie Jennings said as the city considers the ban-the-box movement, it should track what’s happening with it in the Legislature.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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