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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Criminal history no longer on city applications

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The city of Martinsville has removed from its employment application a question on whether an applicant has been convicted of a crime out of concern that applicants who answer yes might face discrimination.

The effort is part of a statewide movement, City Manager Leon Towarnicki told Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.

Another sheet in the application packet still asks about criminal histories. Towarnicki said the sheet will be taken out of submitted packets before department heads conducting interviews see completed applications.

Despite concerns about people with criminal histories potentially facing discrimination when applying for jobs, Towarnicki indicated that the city sometimes needs to know whether applicants have been convicted.

An example he mentioned is if a person convicted of embezzlement were to apply for a position in the finance department.

“Obviously,” he said, “we still have an obligation (to residents) ... to put the best people in” positions that come open.

All applicants who are finalists for any city job undergo criminal background checks, according to Towarnicki and Mayor Kim Adkins.

But “at least up front,” Towarnicki said, the question on the application “can’t be used as a tool to unfairly discriminate” against some people.

Officials did not say whether anyone convicted of a crime could be hired for certain jobs or if they think any applicants actually have faced discrimination.

Also Tuesday, the council adopted a resolution for the city to continue using the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in handling emergencies.

NIMS allows federal, state and local governments to coordinate efforts in preventing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from emergencies effectively and efficiently, according to the resolution.

The system includes standard procedures for managing emergency workers, communications, facilities and resources, the resolution shows.

Basically, “it’s a chain of command thing,” said Councilman Mark Stroud, a former Martinsville Sheriff’s Office deputy. But “it makes sense.”

Bob Phillips, the city’s emergency management coordinator, said he did not realize until recently that the resolution is supposed to be adopted annually.

It must be adopted yearly to maintain Martinsville’s eligibility for any federal funds made available for emergency services, he said.

The council also scheduled neighborhood meetings for the coming months.

Neighborhood meetings give city residents a chance to talk to the council about issues in areas where they live. Because the meetings are less formal and not on television, unlike meetings held at the municipal building, some people feel more comfortable speaking during them, officials have said.

Meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. on the following schedule:

• Sept. 22 at the New College Institute’s new building on the Baldwin Block. The meeting’s focus will be the Druid Hills and uptown areas.

• Nov. 24 at Fuller Memorial Baptist Church on Askin Street. The meeting’s focus will be the southside area.

• Feb. 23 at Chatham Heights Baptist Church on Chatham Road. The meeting’s focus will be the northside and Chatham Heights areas.

• April 27 at Albert Harris Elementary School on Smith Road. The meeting’s focus will be the city’s west side.

Although neighborhood meetings focus on specific areas, they are open to anyone, regardless of where they live in Martinsville.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said Fayette Square, a small park that recently was created at the corner of Fayette and Moss streets uptown, is a “really nice enhancement” to the central business district.

Fayette Square contains five picnic tables and attached seats, as well as 15 wooden planters containing shrubs.

The park, and a similar one created just up Fayette Street, give the street “places to stop and be” instead of the street being a place that just takes people somewhere else, Hodge said.

Also during the meeting, the council learned that:

• City officials are considering removing traffic lights at the intersection of Fayette and Moss. Instead of the lights, stop signs would be installed in each direction, Towarnicki said.

With the opening of the New College Institute building nearby and a medical school in development at the intersection, eventually “there’s going to be a lot of foot traffic” that will cause motorists to stop when needed, he said.

Towarnicki said that while visiting Louisville, Ky., recently, he noticed four-way stops “are everywhere” in that city and “they work fantastic,” but it is “something folks (locally) would have to get used to.”

• Based on concerns expressed by uptown businesses, officials are studying placing time restrictions on streetside parking spaces in the district.

New development uptown is bringing more people there, creating more vehicle and pedestrian traffic, Towarnicki said.

Time restrictions would encourage frequent turnover of parking spaces instead of people parking in them “all day long,” he said.

• Officials also are considering opening the small portion of Bridge Street between Church and Main streets to two-way traffic.

It would improve circulation among vehicle traffic uptown, Towarnicki said.

• Stroud has agreed to serve on the board of Virginia First Cities, an organization representing interests of independent cities statewide.


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