The Dallas City Council has removed the city code provision prohibiting individuals with multiple felony convictions from serving on volunteer boards. Instead, board applicants will have their criminal background searched back to when they were teenagers.
The provision passed the council with one ‘no’ vote from council member Rick Callahan, who said “this is about choices…we want quality people representing this city.”
The city on Wednesday contacted its background check contractor, Quick Search, and asked that board appointee background checks be extended from the usual seven years previous to the year in which a board member turned 18.
“The city secretary’s office has contacted us… and said they want the more in depth screening package, just for appointees,” said John Page, vice president of sales for Quick Search.
The estimated cost to the city for the expanded search, based on 500 board nominees every two years will increase $20,500 to roughly $34,750.
The amendment to the city code was prompted by a news report in December that found Marlon Rollins, appointed to the city’s Park Board in 2015, had served prison time and had felony convictions for robbery and forgery over two decades ago.
Rollins was removed from the board.
The city code states that a board member cannot “have been finally convicted of two or more felony offenses for which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”
The amendment agreed to Wednesday strikes that provision.
“I feel comfortable with this at this point because of the vetting process of the council and the back grounding we do now, we are finding more things than previously,” council member Jennifer Gates said. She added that the fact that board volunteers must be eligible voters is also important.
Callahan took his turn to address to the amendment by citing the case of Rollins.
“Part of the thing with Marlon is that he didn’t tell the truth,” Callahan said. “You need to tell the truth on that application.”
The background check done on Rollins by the Dallas Police Department, which has access to the nationwide criminal database (NCIS) as well as a statewide system that checks out suspects when they are detained for alleged criminal activity, did not show Rollins’ crimes in Tarrant County, according to news reports. The check came back with a clean record for the applicant in Denton, Collin and Dallas Counties, with no mention of a check in Tarrant County.
The department declined to address a follow up email seeking more detail on the its role in background checking board applicants.
Most of the heavy lifting on background checks for the city falls to Quick Search, a highly regarded background check firm created in 1991.
Documents show that the city buys a package that searches county criminal records, federal districts and the national criminal data base going back seven years. The change over to searches going back to a person as an 18-year-old still has to be legally vetted.
Unlike the Dallas PD, Quick Search uses address history to research an individual in order to key in on counties that they person may have lived in, and checking the courts in those respective counties.
Dallas in 2007 stopped asking criminal history questions of applicants for civilian jobs. Background checks are done after an employment offer, and persons taking sworn positions are required to answer criminal history questions on their application.
Policies on criminal background checks for board members vary.
A borough in Pittsburgh, Pa. instituted the plan in 2014, Charlotte, N.C. requires a check for members of certain boards, including panels on zoning and housing, and in Texas, the town of Lake Dallas can remove a board member if it is found he or she is convicted of a class B misdemeanor or above.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]