Beginning in 2016, city of Chattanooga jobs will no longer request criminal background information on preliminary applications. (Photo: Kathryn Decker, Flickr)

A resolution to remove the question pertaining to criminal convictions from city of Chattanooga employment applications passed 8-1 during last night’s City Council meeting.

Beginning Jan. 1, the city of Chattanooga will not ask questions concerning an applicant’s criminal past on preliminary job applications. Inquiries would take place during the standard background check, government officials said. 

The resolution alone concerns city government jobs, said Councilman Chris Anderson, a sponsor of the resolution.

“This resolution only applies to the city of Chattanooga as an employer,” Anderson said. “We have neither the authority nor the inclination as a government body to restrict this question from the applications of private employers. This will do nothing for private employers.”

After the background check, city departments would then be able to determine if an applicant with a criminal past falls in line with all local, state and federal requirements for that position, according to information from the resolution

Anderson said that while people are not formally disqualified when they check the conviction box, he worried the question itself might stop people from applying in the first place.

“[It might] deter people who could be wonderful public servants for the city of Chattanooga from even applying because they perceive that we would discriminate against them,” Anderson said.

Councilman Yusuf Hakeem, too, sponsored the resolution, and he said that removing the question removes a barrier for reformed convicts to apply for government jobs. 

“We say that we want these persons to be law-abiding, but if we close the door on them, it is very likely they might get back into that illegal activity that got them into trouble in the first place,” Hakeem said. 

Hakeem said he has worked with the local chapter of the NAACP on this “flaw in our system.” 

There was, however, one person opposed to the resolution, Councilman Chip Henderson. While he “commend[ed]” and “applaud[ed]” Hakeem’s work, Henderson said he is concerned about how safe the new process would be.

“We do not want anyone convicted of a sexual crime working in Youth and Family Development,” Henderson said. “And I have a concern that by not having that box there, being on the front end, that it could have a possibility of someone falling through the crack-or at least create the possibility.”

Through his work with veterans who have committed crimes, Henderson said he thinks the best way to proceed would be to develop a follow-up program and classes to further reform those with criminal pasts. 

“Just because they served their time does not mean they have been rehabilitated,” Henderson said.