The Chattanooga City Council voted Tuesday evening to ask the city's human resources department to remove questions about an applicant's criminal record from city government job applications.
The vote was 7-1, with council member Chip Henderson as the only no vote.
Supporters said the change will allow applicants who have been convicted of a crime to get to the interview stage of the job application process, where they would have the opportunity to explain their actions. Under current law, if an applicant checks the box indicating that they have been convicted of a crime, they sometimes won't be considered for a city government job and never reach the interview stage.
The Chattanooga City Council also:
› Approved spending up to $50,000 to hire a consultant to help the establish a policy for deciding what city records to retain.
› Voted to delay action until January on a proposed change in rules for licensing pets, to have more time to discuss how to handle licenses for the owners of multiple pets.
"A person who does something wrong when 18 or 19 should not be punished for their entire life," Councilman Russell Gilbert said in arguing in favor of the measure. "I hope major companies see this and make the same decision because it is needed. If you check that box, it automatically kicks you out in most instances."
Council supporters of the measure went to great lengths to emphasize that it does not apply to private businesses — only to city government positions. And they said that it still allows those involved in hiring to ask about an applicant's possible criminal record in an interview, or during the background check.
"To remove that pre-cursor box, in no way does that mean people who work for the city will not get background checks," Council Chairwoman Carol Berz said. "All people who work for the city get background checks."
Council members Yusuf Hakeem and Chris Anderson introduced the measure, which had the support of the Chattanooga NAACP.
Mayor Andy Berke's office said the mayor supports the measure. In a statement, Mayor Berke said he "is in favor of measures to ensure the best person is hired for the job at the City of Chattanooga and thanks the City Council for their leadership on this important issue."
The council vote is only the first step in allowing applicants with a criminal record to be hired, however. The city charter also requires city employees be registered to vote in the state of Tennessee, and people convicted of a felony lose their right to vote unless they request it be reinstated after they have served their time in prison.
The council will consider a separate measure in a couple of weeks that would require city employees only to be Tennessee residents instead of registered voters. Adoption of that ordinance would allow applicants with a criminal record to be hired, except for certain areas such as police officers or some family and youth service staffers.
That additional measure also allows city agencies to ask for exceptions for employees in critical areas where the city does not have enough applicants who live in Tennessee. There is also an exception for current city employees who live outside the city limits and who were grandfathered in when the voting requirement was adopted in 1990. That exception will be included in the new measure as well, according to City Attorney Wade Hinton.
Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 423-757-6673, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP or on Facebook at stevejohnsonTFP.