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Felony question gone for city jobs

November 25, 2018

The city of Fort Wayne has banned the box. 

That is, anyone applying for a city job will no longer have to disclose whether they are a convicted felon when submitting their application.

“The city will still perform background checks, but through fair hiring practices, individuals will no longer have to declare a felony designation up front,” mayoral spokesman John Perlich said in a news release this week. “This provides qualified individuals an appropriate opportunity and access to employment with the city. This change will not impact the safety of our community or the quality of candidates being considered by the city.” 

Thirty-three states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted this policy, Perlich said. 

The changes don’t eliminate felony disclosures, but moves them back in the process to allow people who may have made nonviolent mistakes in the past the chance to compete, Cheri Becker, a member of Mayor Tom Henry’s Opportunity Advisory Council, said. 

“What it does is allows for the process to be more receptive to individuals who may have made some mistakes, paid their debts for whatever they may have done and to at least compete for a position based on their credentials and their capacity to do the job,” Becker said. 

The advisory council, Becker said, doesn’t believe that someone with a nonviolent felony on their record, who has paid their debt to society, should be “sentenced to a lifetime of unemployment.”

The change only affects the city of Fort Wayne and not private businesses.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t follow suit, Becker said. 

“We wanted to look at the process for the city of Fort Wayne and determine whether other employers might look at their processes,” she said. “In a hard employment economy, is that something that makes sense for a potential employer?” 

At the advisory council’s recommendation, the city is also encouraging more participation from new and minority- or women-owned businesses through changes to the Emerging Business Enterprises executive order. According to the city’s website, the Emerging Business Enterprise Program’s goal is to have each contractor awarded a construction contract by the city subcontract at least 10 percent of that work to a certified Emerging Business Enterprise. 

Changes to the program raise the cap on an applicant company’s annual gross receipts from 10 million. To be certified as an Emerging Business, a company must be at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by an economically disadvantaged owner-operator who has been in a specific field for 15 years or less. “We think it supports local economic development,” Ted Storer, an advisory council member, said. “The changes we have proposed to the mayor’s executive order are intended to support local businesses and make it easier for local businesses to participate in city contracts.”

Specifically, Storer said the changes open the doors for more emerging business enterprises owned by women, minorities or disadvantaged individuals that are certified through other agencies like INDOT and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Although it wasn’t intentional, Storer said the owners of many of those companies felt they weren’t receiving the same considerations from the city as other emerging businesses. 

“It makes it easier and more streamlined to participate,” Storer said. 

Business owners interested in applying for the Emerging Business Enterprises Program can find more information at CityofFortWayne.org/Emerging-Business-Program.

dgong@jg.net

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