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`Slow down on CORI'.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - City Manager Michael V. O'Brien is asking the City Council to temporarily put the brakes on an ordinance that would promote changes in the way the city uses Criminal Offender Record Information in its hiring practices.

In a report to the City Council, Mr. O'Brien said City Solicitor David M. Moore has identified legal problems with the ordinance, which was drafted by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Inc., a Boston-based legal advocacy group, and presented to the council by the Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.

Though the ordinance won preliminary approval from the council in April, it has been stalled from coming up for adoption, pending a review by the Law Department.

Mr. Moore said the ordinance has been found to include several provisions that do not agree with the city charter and would create legal conflicts if it is ordained as proposed.

The problems he cited with the ordinance are:

It fails to comply with the reorganization provision of the city charter by granting the Office of Human Rights new powers and duties, without a recommendation by the city manager.

It creates a potential conflict with state laws restricting legislative control over the appointment of various positions in the School Department.

It creates the potential for bid challenges based on the addition of local requirements not authorized by state public bidding laws.

It impedes the executive authority of the city manager as the exclusive appointing authority for municipal employee positions.

"Some of these concerns can be addressed by re-drafting the phraseology, some by substantive revisions, while others can be addressed only by deletion of the provision," Mr. Moore said. "In light of these issues, I strongly recommend against ordainment of the proposed ordinance."

Acknowledging the City Council's desire to support CORI reform, Mr. O'Brien said his administration has researched some alternatives and has identified the Boston CORI ordinance as a potential model that could be used in Worcester.

He said research was done in consultation with Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, and among the cities surveyed were: Boston, Cambridge, Springfield, Buffalo, Chicago, San Francisco and Honolulu.

"Of the seven communities surveyed, only two (Cambridge and Boston) have adopted CORI reform ordinances similar to the one pending before the City Council," Mr. O'Brien wrote. "While there is no evidence of impact, positively or negatively, upon bid competition in either Boston or Cambridge, there are correspondingly no systems in place to track the effect of these ordinances, either."

Since Mr. O'Brien became city manager in 2004, the city has had a CORI hiring policy that limits the use of CORI during the city hiring process for nonpublic safety, nonpublic school personnel. A CORI check is not conducted until a person has been selected for appointment to a specific position - criminal record questions are placed at the end of the hiring process, not at the beginning.

Advocates of the CORI ordinance said it would make that policy law. If it remains simply a policy, they contend it can be changed by future city managers.

The ordinance would also, among other things, remove the question of whether an applicant has been convicted of a crime from applications for employment and also extend that policy to vendors doing business for Worcester - private vendors who receive public money to perform public services.

In addition, the law would give an applicant a copy of his or her CORI report if it could adversely affect a hiring decision, and would also give the applicant an opportunity to explain something on his or her CORI report.

He said the city has implemented policies that affect CORI reform, however, the (city) solicitor has identified legal problems with the ordinance. Mr. O'Brien said, "I would ask City Council to conduct a further review of this matter in the appropriate standing committee."

The situation: The city has had a CORI hiring policy that limits the use of CORI during the city hiring process for nonpublic safety, nonpublic school personnel.

The review: A CORI check is not conducted until a person has been selected for appointment to a specific position - criminal record questions are placed at the end of the hiring process, not at the beginning.

The proponents: Advocates of the CORI ordinance said it would make that policy law.

NAME: WORCESTER CITY COUNCIL
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 2, 2009
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