Failure of Municipal Criminal Background Check process raises questions about new "Shared Services" Sanitation Program with New Rochelle Schools
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Michael E. Newman was fired Monday from his position as an hourly worker in the New Rochelle Department of Public Works after Talk of the Sound began an investigation into his hiring late last week.
A little over a year after the City of New Rochelle joined more than 100 cities nationwide to "Ban the Box" on its municipal job application, the Public Works Department unwittingly hired Newman, a sexually violent predicate sex offender, as an hourly employee in the New Rochelle Sanitation Department.
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service maintains New York's Sex Offender Registry. There are three levels of sex offenders – Level 1 (low risk of re-offense), Level 2 (medium risk of re-offense) and Level 3 (high risk of re-offense). The risk level is set by a judge after a court hearing.
The DCJS Sex Offender Registry lists Michael Edward Newman, 49, as a Level 3 (high risk) Sex Offender, residing in Mount Vernon, NY.
DJCS records show Newman was arrested by Mamaroneck Town Police in 2000 and later convicted of Sexual Abuse 1st - Contact By Forcible Compulsion, a Class D Felony. On November 14, 2001, he was sentenced to 42 months in state prison.
Newman was arrested by the New Rochelle City Police Department in 1996 and convicted on November 22, 1996 of Rape 3rd involving a Victim Less Than 17 Years Old with Perpetrator 21 Years Or More, a Class E Felony.
Newman began work for the City of New Rochelle last week.
New Rochelle Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill responded Monday to questions from Talk of the Sound about Newman’s hiring.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Was Newman asked to sign a form disclosing his criminal history at any point in the hiring? (if so, when. I would like a copy)
GILL: This is not a question in the application.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Did Newman get on a civil service list? If so, when and when did he get called?
GILL: The position is hourly, which is continuous recruitment. No test is required.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Who interviewed Newman?
GILL: John O’Keefe, Manager of Streets and Highways, interviewed him.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Did (John O’Keefe) ask about his criminal history?
GILL: There was no discussion of his criminal history.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Who in DPW extended a job offer to Newman?
GILL: Scott Pickup, Commissioner of Public Works.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Was Newman fingerprinted and subjected to a criminal background check?
TALK OF THE SOUND: Was Newman allowed to start work without a criminal background check being done or before results came back?
GILL: Yes, he worked for approximately one week before he was terminated.
Under a new "Shared Services" agreement which into effect in January 2017, municipal sanitation workers make daily trash and recycling pickups at New Rochelle Schools. The failure to properly screen out Newman raises new questions the type of background checks and security measures the City School District of New Rochelle have in place to deal with the City's sanitation workers. They key question: what sort of access did Newman have to children and staff in New Rochelle schools?
Talk of the Sound asked Gill about the impact of the Newman hiring on the shared services agreement:
TALK OF THE SOUND: Given the new "shared services" program with the City School District of New Rochelle for sanitation services, did the District require municipal sanitation workers to undergo criminal background checks through the New York State Education Department's Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (OSPRA)? Do you provide them a list of employees that work in sanitation? What are the rules for municipal workers on school grounds? For example, what if a guy on a truck wants to use the bathroom at a school?
GILL: Nothing in IMA (Inter-municipal Agreement) with School District or regulations that would require this. They are not allowed in the buildings.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Can you see how this incident could undermine that shared services deal?
School officials did not respond to questions about the security implications of the new "shared services" agreement with the New Rochelle Department of Public Works (see emailed questions below).
"Ban the Box" is a social justice campaign intended to convince employers to remove the check box from job applications that asks if applicants have a criminal record. In New Rochelle, the initiative defers questions on arrests and prior convictions for civil service applicants until the job interview. The New Rochelle Civil Service office accepts job applications for the City of New Rochelle, the City School District, the New Rochelle Public Library and the Municipal Housing Authority.
Strome, when asked about Newman on Friday, said he was unaware of Newman's hiring or status as a registered sex offender. Strome reached out to Public Works Commissioner Scott Pickup who told Strome he had no knowledge of Newman's criminal history or hiring.
Asked how Newman, as a Mount Vernon resident, could obtain a Civil Service position in New Rochelle, Strome said that if he lied on his job application he would be fired for cause.
A review of the job applications shows that Newman listed his home address as Coligni Avenue in New Rochelle not Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon as indicated on the DJCS Sex Offender Registry.
When the Ban the Box policy went into effect in April 2016, City Manager Charles B. Strome, III said "A criminal record is not an automatic bar to employment."
"Removing the boxes on the City's initial application better reflects our practice of putting information on arrests and convictions in place among other factors in consideration for employment."
"This only takes the box off of the initial application," said Strome. "The hiring authority retains the right to ask the candidate about criminal records and have them sign a statement attesting to the fact that they don't (have one).”
The City failed to ask Newsman about criminal records, require him to sign a statement attesting to his not have a criminal record or run a fingerprint criminal background check.
In 2016, New Rochelle City Council Member Jared Rice, co-chair of My Brother’s Keeper New Rochelle, a partnership between the City and School district, praised the adoption of Ban the Box for offering "second chances" to convicted criminals.
"We are delighted that the City of New Rochelle has 'Banned the Box' and taken steps to improve employment opportunities for those with arrest records and the formerly incarcerated.”
Reached for comment today, Rice said he was not familiar with the particulars of the Newman hiring issue, offering instead a general statement on Ban the Box.
“What Ban the Box does is allow one with a criminal record to not have to disclose that at the application stage. If that person's qualifications are such that they merit an interview, they can explain their history then. Ban the Box does not preclude employers from asking about prior criminal history. Nor does it prevent employers from taking into account one's criminal history in determining whether to make a hire.”
Reached for comment while traveling, New Rochelle Public Library Executive Director Thomas Geoffino told Talk of the Sound he was aware of Ban the Box and addressed it in the current union agreement.
“We just successfully concluded a collective bargaining agreement that allows us to investigate the background of potential and current employees relative to sexual abuse situations. If we encounter an abuse relating to this matter, we are allowed to institute the termination process in consultation with our employee Union,” said Geoffino.
The New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Questions asked of the City School District of New Rochelle are contained in the email below:
From: Robert Cox <[email protected]>
Date: Jun 5, 2017, 1:29 AM -0400
To: Mike Bieger <[email protected]>
Subject: Background checks for city sanitation workers
As you seem to be under orders not to respond to me, I suppose this email is more a formality so I can tell readers the District declined to comment on this matter but I am looking for a quote for a story that will run Monday, likely in the am.
Given the new "shared services" program with the City School District of New Rochelle for sanitation services, does the District require municipal sanitation workers to undergo criminal background checks through the New York State Education Department's Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (OSPRA)?
Does the District know who these municipal employees are? Does the District maintain a constantly updated list?
What sort of ID or key fobs are they issued? Is there access to the school defined under some written policy? Do they come into contact with staff or students in the course of trash/recycling pickup?
To take a likely example, what if a municipal sanitation worker asks to use a bathroom at a school, are they allowed to do so?
What are the rules of engagement for security guards or school administrators?
Anything else I should know?
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound