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Haywood discusses background checks for appointees

fr haywoodHaywood County commissioners debated this week whether to make volunteers who serve on appointed boards and committees undergo a background check.

Currently, there’s no background check for the dozens of appointees named to a long list of councils, commissions, advisory committees, boards and authorities.

County Manager Ira Dove asked commissioners during a county meeting on Monday whether there should be a more robust eligibility process for who could serve, and whether background checks should be part of that.

But Commissioner Mike Sorrells questioned whether it would be worth the expense of background checks for everyone who serves on a board. 

“If we have to pay for it, that is an additional cost for the county,” Sorrells said.

Sorrells also questioned whether most of the committees and boards need a background check. Few handle money. And they couldn’t think of any that work directly with children in their board capacity.

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Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick questioned how long someone’s record should be held against them. It also seemed open to interpretation.

“What is serious criminal conduct anyway?” asked Kirkpatrick, an attorney. “I don’t know that I like holding that against folks, if they were convicted of something 20 years ago. People make mistakes.”

They briefly broached the idea of spelling out felony convictions as the threshold. But Kirkpatrick said that’s flawed, too. An assault on a police officer is a misdemeanor, while some felonies on the books are comparatively minor.

County Attorney Chip Killian suggested wording that essentially pledged they were of good standing and moral turpitude.

Sorrells said it seemed a little pointless though, because who would voluntarily check the “no” box on that?

“It’s affirming you are a good person for lack of anything else,” Sorrells said.

Commissioner Mark Swanger said background checks are increasingly common requirements, but agreed it could be superfluous. The county has more than two dozens boards, councils and so forth of its own, plus another dozen outside boards that it names appointees to. They include the recreation advisory board, library board, sediment control board, tourism board, fairgrounds board and many more.

“Most of these boards, I don’t think need it. It would be embarrassing if something went wrong on a board and it turned out that you had appointed somebody who, well, it would be embarrassing,” Swanger said.

Jackson County commissioners two years ago implemented a new policy requiring every volunteer for any county agency, from Meals on Wheels to the greenway advisory council, undergo a background check at the county’s expense. 

Haywood commissioners eventually settled on some sort of statement to be wordsmithed by the county attorney, suggesting anyone with a certain type of record isn’t eligible, without saying what kind of record that was. It would be up to someone’s own interpretation of whether the statement applied to them.

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