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Town tightens belt on background checks

A policy requiring background checks for individuals volunteering with Jonesborough athletic organizations is now a little stricter.
Members of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, at their Sept. 10 meeting, adopted new criteria for screening volunteers as well as paid participants in the town’s youth athletic programs.
They also agreed to pay for the required background checks as a way to ensure they are properly executed.
“We felt like the process we were using was a little haphazard,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “We needed to make clear our expectations.”
Both the Jonesborough Little League and Persimmon Ridge Soccer Association already require background checks for their volunteers. However, the information gathered in such checks varied greatly depending on who conducted them, Browning said.
Previously, the town did not set minimum expectations for the screening process, something that led to concerns over whether the evaluations were really serving their purpose.
“Now, we’re establishing some criteria for the quality of the background checks,” Browning said. “We are telling the organizations they have to do this, but we’re also their partners in it. Essentially, it’s a funded mandate.”
The new policy not only establishes what is required to be included in the background checks, but also offers to pay for each screening.
“We have an athletic line item in the recreation budget that can be used to pay for them. We’re estimating them to be about $25 each. If you’re looking for a ball park figure, we’re probably talking about $1,000 per season,” Browning said. “In the whole scheme of things, that’s money well spent to protect the children. We don’t want (the organizations) taking shortcuts because they don’t have the money. This is important.”
The organizations do not have to go through the town to conduct the background checks on their volunteers, but are required to meet the new criteria regardless of how they execute the screenings.
The annual screenings will include a Social Security verification, address trace, criminal record check and a search of the sex offender registry.
Anyone found guilty of any sex offense, felony violence offense, felony nonviolent offense within the past 10 years, misdemeanor violence offense in the last seven years, misdemeanor offenses related to drugs and alcohol in the last 18 months or any youth-related misdemeanor within the past five years, will be prohibited from participating.
Previously, Browning said the criteria as to who would be excluded from volunteering had been “hazy.”
“There were too many ‘what ifs’ in there,” he said. “We realized we needed to fix this.”
In addition to protecting the children who participate in the programs, the new policy will also better protect the town.
“We based our policy on the criteria established by the National Park and Recreation Association,” Browning explained. “If there is an issue and we are sued, if you end up in court, now you’ve got some basis of your approach.”