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Criminal checks not routine for new county hires

Staff writer

Although cities and some counties — along with many private companies — routinely require a criminal background check and drug testing before a new employee starts work, Marion County does not.

According to county clerk Tina Spencer, the county doesn’t have a policy of doing these checks as a condition of hiring.

Custodians, who will be in county offices after hours, and employees hired by the sheriff’s department are routinely subjected to criminal background checks.

Truck and equipment operators with commercial driver’s licenses are subjected to drug testing, Spencer said.

Such testing for all employees, not just those in sensitive positions, is routine for cities and some counties in the region.

Marion city administrator Roger Holter said the city looked at backgrounds and drug use for all new employees.

“All employees, new hires, go through that process,” Holter said. “We’re stewards of the public assets and interest, and we feel it’s extremely important to protect the assets, including the human assets, of the public.”

Testing continues on a random basis even after employment has begun for employees required to have commercial driver’s licenses.

Hillsboro city administrator Larry Paine echoed Holter’s outlook.

“Hillsboro does criminal background checks and drug tests,” Paine said.

But Paine said Hillsboro’s check is not as comprehensive as what some cities do.

The city looks at any criminal record or financial concerns about a job candidate.

“You do things related to the type of decision they are taking — like in the hiring of a police officer, you’d do a check on whether they have any misdemeanor or felony that impacts their ability,” Paine said. “In our case, when we do a hire, we do a drug and alcohol panel and send it down to the clinic. We’ve got a number of jobs that require random drug testing, like on CDLs.”

Paine said the reason Hillsboro screened all prospective employees was to protect the city’s reputation as well as protect other staff members and the public.

“If there’s any possibility of that, my tendency would be to not do the hire,” Paine said.

New employees are subjected to comprehensive checks, according to Janice Huffman, human resources director for Lyon County.

After a conditional job offer is extended, the prospective employee is checked for drug and alcohol use. Driving records and criminal records are checked, and physical condition is checked as well.

Prospective sheriff’s department employees are subjected to more rigorous background checks, Huffman said.

In Harvey County, drivers with CDL licenses are the only new hires who are drug tested, according to Linda Kientz, human resources director.

“Other than that, we don’t drug test unless they are cited in an accident,” Kientz said.

Background checks used to be done routinely but were discontinued. The county is planning to start doing them again, however.

In Dickenson County, all newly hired employees submit to drug, physical capacity, driver’s license, and reference checks, said Diane Greenough, human resources director

“The criminal background check is done by, and for, the sheriff’s office for the law enforcement side,” Greenough said.

Chase County requires drug screening for employees who require a CDL, clerk Connie Pretzer said. Otherwise, in the county of 2,679, officials think they know their applicants.

“We really don’t do background checks,” Pretzer said. “We check references. We haven’t done criminal background checks, but we know everybody.”

In Marion County, the newly hired county park and lake superintendent’s job description includes the law-enforcement power to “make decisions … whether to issue a warning or make an arrest on rule and regulations infractions.”

New hire Bryan Metz confirmed Tuesday that he was charged with domestic battery for a Nov. 23, 2012, incident in McPherson. He entered a diversion agreement April 26, 2013, agreeing to complete a domestic violence prevention program and pay all court costs and fines.

Metz said the incident was a family altercation and that nothing more happened after court.

His case might under state law preclude him from having any sort of law enforcement duties. However, commissioner Dianne Novak said it is not the commission’s intention for the lake superintendent to have such duties and the job description would be amended.

Last modified Aug. 3, 2017

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