Townships mixed on background checks, offender policy

Plainfield Township is facing harsh criticism regarding their lack of a policy requiring background checks on potential employees (see related story page 1), and their decision not to fire a firefighter who was convicted of a sex offense, but in fact the township is not alone.

Cannon Township also does not require background checks for potential employees, although Clerk Bonnie Blackledge said the township fire department does do background checks on their new hires.

“In light of what happened with Plainfield Township, we probably will,” she said.

Blackledge said the general background check the fire department uses would indicate if a person was on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. She said the department recently declined hiring an individual because of their driving record, which showed up during the course of the background check.

Courtland Township Clerk Marilyn Crosby said that township also does not have a policy regarding background checks or employing sex offenders. She said the fire chief does background checks on potential fire department employees. “We do it for their driving record,” she said, and added that the application asks about criminal history, which would also show up on the criminal background check.

Grattan Township also does not have a background check policy in place for potential employees, said Supervisor Frank Force. Again, he said the fire department does do background checks. “It’s kind of a new concept, really,” he said. “I don’t think we do regular background checks much less sex offender investigations.” However, he said his zoning assessor did do background checks on all employees several years ago.

“Someone brought it to our attention that there was a sex offender living in close proximity to a school, so we checked and sure enough, he is.” The individual is not an employee or associated with the township, but the assessor, a retired police officer, checked to see if any staff was on the sex offender registry.

Force said the recent publicity over a township employee on the sex offender registry has his township developing a policy. However, it will probably not be ready for consideration by the board at their next meeting. “They are still working on the concept and wording. It is still probably very preliminary.”

The City of Rockford does full background checks on all but seasonal employees, who are usually high school or college students, said City Manager Michael Young. He said that the city charter says the manager may establish policies and procedures regarding hiring. Fire, police and city staff undergo written and oral physical testing, and credit, background and drug tests.

Likewise, Algoma Township not only checks backgrounds before hiring anyone, they also check annually to make sure no employee has been added to the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. “We’ve been doing that even longer than I’ve been here, so at least for nine years,” said Clerk Judy Bigney. She said all employees, part-time, full-time and right on through the fire department are all checked annually. When asked if a criminal sexual history would preclude employment, she couldn’t say. “We’ve never been presented with that. I don’t know what we would do. The board would have to take it into consideration.”

Bob Radakovits is the director of public safety at Grand Rapids Township. He said backgrounds are checked, including the sex offender registry. “We have the prospective employee sign a release that gives us permission to obtain school, work, medical, military, credit, employment, criminal case history and check their Social Security records.”

Radakovits said he used to be a police officer and did backgrounds as part of that job. He said he uses Social Security records to discover where the applicant has worked in their lives and reference-checks them. “You do a developed reference check,” he said. “You talk to the person they put on their references and then you ask, ‘Who else does Bob know?’” he said. “That’s who you want to talk to, the ones who don’t know you will be calling.”

Employees who are put on the sex offender registry after employment might not be found out, he said. He said he is in the process of running the township firefighters through the registry to see if any have been added to the list after employment.

“Stories like that [Plainfield Township] bring things to light. It’s always good to be on guard.” Radakovits said he is positive he would not hire someone with a criminal sexual history.

Radakovits said firefighters do have an annual check of their driving records. “We wouldn’t want someone out there driving one of those big fire trucks if they don’t have a clean driving record.” He said for government employees, it is just good policy to have a system for background checks.

Anyone considering a new hire can take advantage of the Michigan State Police Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT). Go to mi.gov/msp and click the ICHAT icon on the left of the screen. Required is the full name of the person and their date of birth. The cost per check is just $10.

Who has background check policies?

Algoma Township…………………….Yes

Cannon Township……………………No

Courtland Township…………………No

Grand Rapids Township…………..Yes

Grattan Township…………………….No

Plainfield Township………………….No

City of Rockford………………………..Yes

About Squire News

The Squire has been Rockford’s free weekly newspaper since 1871. Our loyal readership includes over fifteen thousand homes in the Rockford area, including the affluent Lakes area of Lake Bella Vista, Bostwick Lake and Silver Lake; Belmont, Blythefield, as well as Algoma, Courtland, Cannon and Plainfield Townships. The Squire is distributed through the U.S. Post Office every Thursday. We also deliver to in-town businesses and homes with paper carriers and news stands in our grocery stores and over thirty local shops.
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