Town puts in place background check policy

The Town of Whitehall has put in place a policy that requires all Recreation Center employees undergo full criminal background checks.

Officials believe the policy will safeguard against the hiring of convicted felons and sex offenders. The Town of Moreau instituted a similar policy in earlier this year after a convicted sex offender lied on his employment application and was hired to work for the town’s Recreation Department.

“We’ve got to protect the kids,” said Councilman Richard LaChapelle. “We don’t want the situation they had in Moreau.”

Last month the town hired five part-time employees to work at the Recreation Center through the summer but background checks were never completed.

One of those employees has since quit, and while three of the employees are either recent graduates or students at Whitehall High School and therefore well-known by many in the community. LaChapelle said it is important for the town to do its due diligence.

“They thought they knew him in Moreau,” he said.

The recent hires that remain in the town’s employ will be subject to background checks and could conceivably lose their jobs if anything were to show up in their records, although considering who the employees are, it’s unlikely that will be the case.

The town will pony up the $75 for any background check that is performed on any existing and future Rec. Center employees.

Julie Eagan, acting Rec. Center leader, and Christine Hoagland, both of whom were hired before last month, will not be subject to background checks because of their other jobs. Eagan is town and village justice and Hoagland is a teacher in the Whitehall School District and both are believed to have undergone previous background checks.

LaChapelle had initially pushed for a policy that would have required all town employees undergo a background check, regardless of which department they worked for.

He argued that performing a background check on some employees and not others could be viewed as discrimination and potentially create a situation in which the town could be the target of a lawsuit.

That motion, however, failed to get off the floor after Supervisor George Armstrong expressed his concern with paying for the extra background checks. He also said he wasn’t comfortable mandating employees pay for their background checks.

Officials said they will consult town attorney Christian Morris to determine if it’s legally permissible to perform backgrounds on some employees and not others.

The Town of Moreau had considered instituting full background checks on employees after it was discovered that Robert J. Roberts, 57, a level two sex offender, had lied on his application and was hired by the town.

In that case, officials ultimately decided to institute a policy that calls for checking whether a job candidate is a convicted sex offender amid concerns that full background checks could lead to discrimination if the town didn’t hire a job candidate because of minor offenses.

The decision to institute background checks on Rec. Center employees passed by a 4-0 margin. Councilman David Hollister was absent.

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