|Posted by Anne Siren on September 7, 2012 at 2:55 PM|
Deerfield Beach – The commission’s decision last year to require extensive background checks of city volunteers is keeping some well-meaning citizens off athletic fields and away from programs for children. But earlier this month, despite a request for an appeal process from Commissioner Ben Preston, the rest of the board reiterated its tough stance. “We have to err on the side of caution [even though] good people get ensnared, no doubt,” Vice Mayor Bill Ganz said.
Preston offered several examples of coaching volunteers who have been dropped from city programs because of youthful crimes. One man, who committed felonies and served time as a youth, has completely redeemed himself and now participates in the Prison Ministry and leads the Boys Brigade Program at the Cathedral Church of God. He began coaching in 2005 and when his felonies were uncovered in the newly-required level 2 background check, went through a process at the state to prove himself worthy. That resulted in a ruling from the Department of Children and Families that he was fit to work with children and the elderly, Preston said, but because of Deerfield’s policy he is still banned from coaching. “This is wrong,” Preston said. “He needs to be on the field working with kids.”
Another case Preston discussed involved a vehicular homicide that occurred 20 years ago. The person driving that car has since led an arrest-free life. “We need relief for people who have paid the price, satisfied their obligations, corrected their lives,” Preston said.
Level 2 background checks research FBI records internationally to discover sexual predator or sex offender convictions as well as felonies involving violence. The same applies to those with records of violent misdemeanors or repeated drug and alcohol convictions. No one in this situation is allowed to coach in youth leagues either sponsored by the city or using city facilities. The background check must be done once a year.
When the level 2 rule was approved by the commission in May 2011, organizers of the youth sports programs protested the cost of the inquiries whic were about $50 per person. Last year, the city contributed $2,500 toward those expenses.
Parks and Recreation Director Walt Bratton said, in his experience, level 2 checks are generally required by governmental entities. They are recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association.
Both Mayor Peggy Noland and Vice Mayor Ganz were adamantly against changing the current policy. Ganz said in earlier days volunteers were accepted on someone’s word alone, a policy that resulted in persons with serious criminal records – from second degree murder to robbery with a deadly weapon – being allowed to coach. As to any appeal process, Ganz said, “We might make good judgments, but others who follow us may not. I am completely against changing it.”
Noland said she “absolutely had no faith in the Department of Children and Families,” adding “Our goal is to protect the children.”
Persisted Preston, “Why not some leeway to use people who want to point kids in the right direction?”
“Some mistakes carry long, long after effects,” Ganz replied. “And I don’t want to be judge and jury.”
The commission’s decision to toughen an existing ordinance which required only level 1 checks, using only a state data base, came after a county employee at Quiet Waters Park was accused of molesting a young girl.