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Felon issue shocks Council
Mar 21, 2006 12:00 am
March 15, 2005
Members of the Lebanon City Council, many of them shocked to learn the city employs an unknown number of convicted felons, have taken emergency action to bring the issue in front of the full Council later this week.
Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler began circulating a petition early Tuesday calling for a special Council meeting to discuss reports of numerous felons on the city payroll.
By noon, Buhler had garnered the two additional signatures necessary to have City Finance Commissioner Hal Bittinger approve the meeting, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at city hall.
Buhler said the issue, which was first reported Monday by The Lebanon Democrat was a public safety matter, and required urgent attention.
"It would be irresponsible of us, based on this new information, not to do anything," Buhler said.
According to a copy of the request signed by Buhler, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston and Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath, Personnel Director Jim Henderson would be required to provide the Council with written answers to 17 questions pertaining to Lebanon's hiring practices.
As was reported earlier this week, a disagreement exists between Henderson and City Attorney Andy Wright over whether or not the city has a policy of not hiring felons in the first place.
Most councilors said one of the main problems is the ambiguity surrounding the city's hiring practices.
"Evidently, we don't have a real clear cut policy," Warmath said.
And the city is in need of rules "that would actually make sure individuals are background checked each time and every time they apply for a job," she said.
She explained the city as a huge employer must decide the comfortability level the Council and city government has for a member of the work force.
"There are some infractions or some crimes that are just not as big as other crimes, but I think that when you get into some issues where the citizens might be frightened of this individuals … you've got to take a pretty hard stance on it," Warmath said.
In addition to protecting residents, Lebanon needs to protect itself from potential litigation that could arise from not knowing the criminal history of its employees.
"I don't think anybody in the City of Lebanon needs to be afraid for their jobs. That's not what this is about," Warmath said. "This is about the City of Lebanon being an employer, and about needing to be a responsible employer."
Huddleston also said it was important to note no one is suggesting the city's payroll be purged of every felon, either now or in the future.
"I believe everyone should have an opportunity to have a job, but I think we need to be more aware of who has a job," he said.
Huddleston said he was most surprised with the disagreement in the city over how to interpret the current policy.
"Our hiring process definitely needs to be checked out," Huddleston said.
Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer, though, was more adamant in looking at the situation as an ongoing violation of city regulation.
"I certainly believe that the City Council needs to examine why the present city policy is being violated, and that we are hiring convicted felons," Farmer said.
Farmer was not able to sign the petition because he was out of town, but spoke to Buhler and offered his full support.
Buhler said he attempted to contact every councilor Monday morning, but wanted to have the request delivered to Bittinger, Wright and Henderson as soon as possible.
"We have an obligation to serve the citizens, and this is just too big of an issue to sit on until the next Council meeting," Buhler said.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.