Public forum discusses proposed changes to city job applications

Updated: 05/13/2014 11:10 PM
Created: 05/13/2014 4:37 AM WHEC.com
By: Lynette Adams

It is on just about every job application. It is a little box that asks if you've ever been convicted of a crime. One Rochester City Councilman wants that question removed on all city job applications for public and private businesses. He says it would give more people the opportunity to get a job, but not everyone agrees with the plan.

The proposal comes from City Council Member Adam McFadden. He says the figures are startling. Nearly one-third of Monroe County residents have committed a crime. He says it makes sense to create opportunities for ex-convicts to improve their lives.

Kenneth Barksdale, of Rochester, agrees that if you commit a crime, you should pay your debt to society. But he says serving time can be a life sentence. Barksdale is a four-time convicted felon.

Kenneth Barksdale, Rochester resident, said, “I feel as though I’m being held hostage to my past, therefore, kidnapping my future. Just give me the opportunity to go ahead and work and become a productive citizen and pay my taxes. It beats going out in the street, picking up an ounce of cocaine and a firearm, which is readily available almost anywhere in this city.”

Barksdale was among a group of residents who came to Rochester City Hall to share their stories and to weigh in on a proposal to ban the question on job applications that asks if you have ever committed a felony or crime. The aim is to level the playing field for all job applicants.

Kerry Coleman, Rochester resident, said, “Three years of my life, I spent in prison for nothing.”

Kerry Coleman served three years for a crime that was overturned. He says that single box can do more harm than good.

Coleman said, “I'm a holder of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. I gave my life in Somalia for these rights and privileges to come back to my country and have this done to me.”

Barbara Campbell disagrees with the proposal. She says family members have served time, but have proved it is possible to move forward if you're willing to do the work. 

Barbara Campbell said, “They did start off with jobs they didn't want to do and they had to show that they were worthy of that trust again. That's something that these people don't want to do, but once you violate that trust, you have to earn it back.”

While the proposal would ban the box on the application, McFadden says it would not prohibit employers from asking about a person's criminal background during an interview or conducting other background checks. Employers would have the right to withdraw a job offer if the candidate has a conviction that would pose an unreasonable risk to property or the safety of other employees.

If the proposal is approved by City Council, businesses would have six months to comply and any business that doesn't, would face a $500 fine for the first violation and a $1,000 fine for any subsequent violations. 

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