Part 2: Sex offenders and the City



Posted on August 30, 2011 at 10:31 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 2 at 6:25 PM

AUSTIN -- Indecency with a child, sexual assault, and rape are some of the crimes the KVUE Defenders found on the records of 15 City of Austin employees. Employees who are also registered sex offenders.

“The reality is, they're among us everywhere. We just don't know,” Rick Gipprich with Texas Association Against Sexual Assault said.   

Gipprich did not know, and in some cases neither did the City of Austin, because the City does not background check every employee.

“We have to prove that it's a requirement of the position, and we cannot say that for all 12,000 employees, that their job requires them to have a background check,” Human Resources Director Mark Washington said.

In addition to not doing background checks, the City does not even ask applicants whether they have a criminal history. In 2008, the city council voted to remove that question from the application, to give ex-offenders a second chance.
Washington says, it is working.
“People do deserve a second chance," Washington said. "We have record that there are employees that do learn from past mistakes, and some of them have proven to be high-performing and exceptional employees.”

Washington says background checks are only required for employees who have contact with children or the elderly, or have financial responsibilities.
As a result, the criminal backgrounds of thousands of City of Austin workers are unknown to the city and fellow employees.
“I think everyone has a right to know [the criminal backgrounds of employees],” Gipprich said.

Gipprich says if one position requires a background check, they all should.
“It should be consistent across the board," Gipprich said. "If you're going to do a background check on a Parks and Recreation worker, you should also do a background check on a city-appointed official. Everyone should have the same background check done."
Mary Sue Molnar says, if anyone is hiring sex offenders, it should be the city.
“Would we rather that they work and pay their taxes, or would we rather support them with our tax dollars, unemployment, and food stamps?” Molnar said.

Molnar’s organization, Texas Voices, lobbies to reform sex offender laws. She says a criminal history prematurely disqualifies too many people who just want to move on with their lives.
“There's very little chance for them to succeed without employment,” Molnar said.
The KVUE Defenders asked Mayor Lee Leffingwell if he thought the City should hire sex offenders.
“Well, that’s a question that really goes to the heart of the matter of interfering in personnel managers, which would be restricted by the charter,” Leffingwell said.

Mayor Leffingwell said he could not talk about the policy specifically. He believes everyone deserves a second chance, and he is not sure that the policy should be changed.
“We would have to take a look at that. I wouldn't want to make any comments on that without a legal brief,” Leffingwell said.
But Gipprich argues, for the safety of the citizens, the City of Austin’s background check policy could use another look.
“They may have done everything they needed to do and felt this person was not a threat or a danger in his job. But to the community, it’s a different story,” Gipprich said.

The Defenders have not found evidence that the sex offenders mentioned in our investigation have been charged with a repeat offense.

Four of them have been suspended with pay pending a City of Austin internal investigation for allegations of misrepresenting their criminal history on a job application.

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