Local News

Story published: 04-23-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Town agrees to allow some felons to volunteer with youth

By Kristen Swing
Executive Editor

Six months ago, town leaders voted to tighten the belt on background checks for volunteers working with youth programs such as Jonesborough Little League and the Persimmon Ridge Soccer Association.

Policy changes included more thorough background checks for those volunteering with such programs, screenings the town has agreed to fund in an effort to make sure they are being conducted correctly.

Individuals who have been found guilty of any sex offense or felony violent offense are not allowed to be a part of a program. Also not allowed, according to the policy, are individuals who have been found guilty of a felony, nonviolent offense within the last 10 years.

Now, however, leaders have agreed to be a little more flexible for people who fall into the latter category, but have been volunteering with a program for at least one season.

“The policy is fairly restrictive,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “There are some circumstances where somebody has already been volunteering and their felony is nonviolence related and non-sexual related. Now we’re saying they can’t because we have this new policy.”

With the BMA’s unanimous vote April 8, the policy has changed so such an individual may be allowed to continue participating in a youth program within the town.Leaders agreed to allow the granting of a waiver if the circumstances of the crime give no real concern to the safety of the youth participants, the individual has been involved in the program for at least one season without any problems and the youth association recommends his or her continued involvement.

“We’re talking about crimes that are more likely to be something of a money issue,” Browning said. “It could be something — a default on a contract or something. It can fall from a civil to a criminal situation.”

The waiver option was brought to the BMA when it was discovered that a Little League volunteer appeared to fall into this particular category.

“There has only been one circumstance in which it has come forward as a possibility this person may fit,” Browning said. “It triggered the discussion, but there ended up not being a need for it.”

According to Browning, further investigation into the individual’s background led to the determination that there was no policy violation in the first place.

“There are zero people at present that this applies to,” he said.

That number could change, however, because background checks are still being conducted.

“We are still getting some of those background reports back in,” Browning said.

Ideally, such checks would have been completed prior to the start of the Little League season, Browning said. But the inaugural year with the new policy has caused a few hiccups along the way.

“Little League has been very cooperative but we are still transitioning to this new program,” Browning said. “(Volunteer forms) are coming in piecemeal so (the background checks) are being run piecemeal.”

By the time soccer season rolls around, Browning said the town will be more “proactive on the front end” to ensure required forms are turned in by all volunteers prior to the start of the season.

The town’s policy, which follows closely the Tennessee Parks and Recreation guidelines, also prohibits from volunteering any individuals who have had a misdemeanor related to violence within the last seven years, one related to drugs and alcohol within the last 18 months or any misdemeanor within the last five years that would be considered a potential danger to children or is related to volunteer duties.