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With scandals such as the Penn State sex abuse case not far in the rearview mirror, the township committee is working to draft a tighter version of an ordinance for mandatory background checks of recreation employees and volunteers.

The first reading of the ordinance was tabled Thursday night after Committeewoman Denice DiCarlo expressed several concerns dealing with the lack clarity of the ordinance.

Of DiCarlo’s main concerns, was how the ordinance failed to clearly outline the procedure for handling personal information. DiCarlo feels that all information pertaining to background checks should be handled strictly by the police department—for the sake of confidentiality and to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“I think we are all in agreement that it should go through the chief of police”, says DiCarlo.

When the ordinance is approved, the township will receive reimbursement for all accrued fees through the Check Em’ Out program. Check ‘Em Out program is sponsored by the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation, the same foundation responsible for pushing through Megan’s Law in 1996. Through the program, the foundation will reimburse the township for all mandated fingerprinting and background checks for youth organizations.

Fingerprints will run through New Jersey State Police and FBI databases for prior convictions.   

Another major concern of DiCarlo’s was the draft’s focus on mainly youth sport coaches. The recreation committee has already determined that other employees—such as those with Little Theater or the Miss West Deptford Scholarship Pageant—fall under the program’s umbrella of reimbursement.

Mayor Chintall has also discussed including RiverWinds employees and township employees into the policy. Chintall said he has always supported mandating background checks, and began pushing for mandatory background checks in 2002, urging former Committeeman John Cobb to intiate background checks on volunteers.   

At the Budget Subcommittee on Recreation in March, Chintall suggested the background checks could be funded by the rec fee. While he was aware of the Check Em’ Out program, he was concerned funding through their program would be limited. 

“I think this is a great opportunity to ensure that the children of our community are protected,” said Chintall, Thursday night.

Check ‘Em Out was approved by the recreational board during its June meeting after DiCarlo proposed it.

The board also approved withholding organizations’ allotments until all members have submitted to fingerprint checks.

In addition, DiCarlo says that the recreational committee will be able to police the sponsored organizations if a member is found to have previous convictions, by withholding the allotment until the person is removed from their position. DiCarlo says there will be an appeals process, to help create a system of checks and balances.

However, further discussion is needed on how to do the same for non-sponsored programs, since there is no allotment.

“We need to put timelines and guidelines on this,” says DiCarlo about the holes in the ordinance.

John Dunda—vice-chair of the recreation board—previously expressed support for this new program, especially in wake of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. He calls fingerprinting only a small inconvenience when it comes to ensuring children’s safety.

DiCarlo says that while recent events have definitely fueled this matter she says as a mother and a former board of education member, child safety has always been a prime concern for her.

“I think it’s staying with the notion of keeping our children safe,” says DiCarlo, “If this saves one child from abuse then I think it’s worth it.”    

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The lack of thorough, pre-employment background checks at the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer has been a concern since 2001, when city officials learned that the agency’s general counsel was not a lawyer.

Saamir Kaiser, whose job was to give legal advice to Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, was convicted in 2002 of embezzling $250,000 in city funds, which he used to help pay for his wedding and honeymoon, and a Mercedes-Benz. An internal investigation found that Kaiser, who had served as Gandhi’s general counsel for five months, had falsified his credentials. Kaiser had previously worked in a D.C. law firm and as a staff lawyer with the D.C. financial control board.

“He had a cloak of legitimacy. But if they were doing these background checks in advance, they should have caught it,” said Jerry Malone, who was subsequently hired as the agency’s general counsel.

Malone said that then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams urged Gandhi to better vet potential employees. “The idea was that situations like Mr. Kaiser shouldn’t occur again,” he said.

Concerns were raised again in 2008 by Deputy Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cordi, hired by Gandhi to restructure a tax office rocked a year earlier by a $48 million fraud involving tax refunds, the largest embezzlement in District government history.

Cordi told internal affairs staff members that the agency needed to conduct more vigorous background checks before hiring. “Cordi believes that [the tax office] is a prime breeding ground for potential bribery of line employees,” according to an internal report recently obtained by The Washington Post. “Cordi felt that without some pre-employment screening, bad hiring decisions are made. Hiring an unqualified, ill equipped or morally corrupt employee can be even more costly before they are fereted [sic] out and terminated.”

The same year, then-D.C. Auditor Deborah A. Nichols conducted a review of the background check policy at the agency. She found that the agency conducted background checks only after employees were hired and that the investigations could take months to complete.

Nichols recommended pre-employment criminal and financial checks of all employees who handle money. “They said it was time and money,” Nichols said. “I think we’ve got both.”

In a written statement, agency officials said that most job candidates receive a screening prior to hiring that includes verification of degrees, current salary and a “Google search.” Agency officials said senior executives are screened more heavily with checks of civil and criminal court records, tax liens, education verification and employment history.

Background checks are conducted in-house after employees are hired, the agency said.

Tax office chief Cordi, in a written statement, said the concerns he identified to internal auditors in 2008 “have long-since been addressed to the satisfaction of internal and external auditors, although, like all other internal controls, they are constantly reviewed and improved.”

Agency officials added: “The hiring process within the [agency] is a lengthy one. As a practical matter, we must balance the requirements of pre-employment screenings with the agency’s need to fill positions and effectively deliver needed services.”

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