Lee’s Summit parks department toughens policy on background checks

rpulley@lsjournal.comDecember 6, 2013 

A tighter policy for background checks for Lee’s Summit parks employees, volunteers and athletic groups using the parks system is now in place.

The Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation board unanimously passed the revised policy Dec. 4 at its regular meeting with little discussion.

The parks department, working with leaders of soccer and other youth sports associations for months reworked an earlier proposal that initially got pushback from the volunteer organizations.

The parks board had reviewed the policy in work sessions.

“We just need to make sure we have a net that will pull out the people who’ve been convicted, a very small number in our community,” said Tom Lovell, parks administrator.

The updated policy follows an incident where a soccer coach faces federal charges of attempting to produce child pornography for secretly videotaping nude members of his team in his home.

Association leaders feared the proposed policy could be too restrictive and disqualify coaches who were not actually a threat to children.

Or it could simply discourage people from volunteering, they said.

The department backed away from one proposed rule that upset the sports associations.

The new policy guidelines closely follow the national standard, but differs in that it excludes misdemeanor alcohol offenses as a disqualifier for volunteers.

Because three alcohol-related offenses would become a felony, the background checks based on felony convictions would disqualify problem drinkers, Lovell said, so the parks department dropped misdemeanor alcohol offenses from the list.

The issues had heated up in July when the standards were first proposed, causing a flurry of comments on area talk radio. Parks administrators and youth sports leaders continued meeting to work through the issue and researched policies of other parks departments and youth sports organizations.

The groups and parks department already had background checks in place, but the department wanted to adopt tighter rules recommended by the National Recreation and Parks Association.

The policy adopted this week disqualifies volunteers or employees who’ve had any sex offense conviction or any felony convictions within 10 years. It also disqualifies those with misdemeanor violence convictions (within seven years) or misdemeanor drug-related offenses (within five years or multiple convictions within 10 years).

Other disqualifiers include convictions for supplying alcohol to a minor, assisting in child abduction or parental kidnapping, or endangering the welfare of a child, second degree.

Lovell said the new process also includes a review board to help with the screening process, which helps solve some of early concerns by the sports leagues.

During research and discussion, the parties looked at policies of other departments and youth organizations. And they agreed a completely “black and white” list wasn’t workable.

The review board would consider situations where a person is flagged for a felony conviction not directly related to safety of children, for example not wearing a seatbelt.

“Together we can deal with anything that comes up in a gray area,” Lovell said.

The procedure would be to convene the review board at the request of the youth sports or parks department to decide if the conviction is relevant to child safety. The board would consist of the presidents of the youth sports associations and the parks administrator.

Lovell said that presidents of the sports associations had unanimously agreed on the new policy as it adjusted to meet their criticisms.

Ron Cox, president of the Lee’s Summit Soccer Association, said he thought the parks staff and done a tremendous amount of work to create a good policy for the community.

He said the sports associations had wanted to make sure good volunteers weren’t excluded from participation.

Cox said most of the coaches and volunteers are not that many years past college days when they may have had a youthful indiscretion and gotten a misdemeanor. Now they’re more mature with young families.

“We wanted them to have opportunity to be able to coach their own kids,” Cox said. “At the end of the day everyone wants to protect the kids from sexual predators.”

He said his board voted unanimously to support the final proposals by parks staff.

Tom Benassi, President of the Lee’s Summit Football Association, said he was not aware the parks board passed the policy, so he had no comment.

The policy isn’t intended to address issues such as a coach who yells at kids or curses during games.

The sports associations already have processes for those problems.

“They do a very good job of policing those things,” Lovell said.

The youth sports associations and parks department also are working on implementing education program for parents and children.

“To help them resist being put into situations that aren’t healthy for them,” Lovell said.

In other business, the park board voted to allow fundraisers in parks such as walk-a-thons or races only if they are co-sponsored by the department.

The parks department could act as a co-sponsor for community-wide groups such as One Good Meal, Lee’s Summit Social Services or the Lee’s Summit Educational Foundation, Lovell said.

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