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City drafts new policy on hiring of felons


City Attorney Jeff Turnage

City Attorney Jeff Turnage



Nathan Gregory



A committee formed to set guidelines for a screening policy to replace the city's no-felony rule for considering city employment applicants has drafted language for the new policy, which will come before the Columbus City Council Tuesday for approval. 


During its April 2 meeting, city attorney Jeff Turnage said the city's practice of eliminating applicants with criminal backgrounds from consideration of employment had the potential of violating Title VII. The council then voted to immediately do away with that policy and establish guidelines for a new one that would not make previous incarceration the sole determining factor as to whether or not someone is offered a city job. 


Factors in determining whether to employ those with criminal backgrounds would include the nature of the crime, the time elapsed from the conviction and the nature of the position sought in relation to what an applicant was convicted for. 


The policy does allow the city to inform an applicant that he may be excluded from consideration based on his conviction but would allow him to demonstrate why he should not be excluded. 


Applicants would be given a chance to show evidence that they performed the same type of work for the job they're applying for after they served their sentences and they have consistent employment histories since their releases. 


Convicted felons who have not yet had firearm rights restored would be disqualified from consideration for a police department job, but those who can prove exemption from prohibition of carrying a firearm would not. 


Convicted felons who apply for jobs in the city's fire department would not be considered unless they receive favorable rulings from the Mississippi Minimum Standards board and prove their convictions are no longer detrimental to the public trust. 


The committee that drafted the new policy language consists of Turnage, Human Resources Director Patricia Mitchell, Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem.  


Councilmen voted 5-1 to discontinue the no-felony policy and establish that committee April 2. Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin was the only opposing vote. 


Karriem said during the meeting that he realized the controversial nature of the policy change but wanted to prevent the city from potential litigation as a result of noncompliance with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 


"The more important thing we all have to consider: Is it the right thing to do and does it protect the city?" Karriem said April 2. "It's a ruling that's been given and now it's up to us to do what we have to do to protect the city of Columbus." 


Gavin said among several reasons he was opposed to the idea, he was most concerned about how the city would respond if it hired a convicted felon that committed another felony while working for the city.


Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.



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