Volunteer policy revisions postponed by board

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By Brian Slattery

To avoid losing a number of volunteer football coaches a week after practices, county commissioners have held off enacting new standards for Parks and Recreation volunteers.

Following a lawsuit filed by Richard Hollar that, in part, claims volunteers with criminal records were allowed to coach recreation league football teams, the Parks and Recreation department revised its volunteer background check policy.

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said the football issue was raised last fall when an investigation was run by the district attorney’s office, but at the time a change in the background policy was not discussed.

He said in the spring, commissioners proposed reviewing the volunteer policy.

Pryor requested the review wait until open positions on the parks and recreation advisory board were filled.

The survey was sent out in mid-July and Pryor intended to present an updated volunteer policy in October.

“The (volunteer rules) can be debated until the sun goes down. That’s why I present a survey to determine the policy, because everyone has a different opinion,” Pryor said.

Pryor said once the lawsuit was filed the parks and rec staff used the survey information to prepare changes that were presented to commissioners Aug. 19.


Background policy changes

At the Aug. 19 county commissioners’ meeting, County Manager Ann Hardy said the coaches serve as role models for the children playing for them and parents hold them to high standard, so the staff made changes to hold the volunteer coaches to a high standard on and off the field.

The Parks and Recreation staff reviewed the volunteer background check policy and provided amendments for the commissioners to consider, including feedback from a survey of county commissioners, parks and rec advisory board members and county officials.

The policy sets lifetime bans for a guilty charge for sex offenses, child endangerment, drug charges, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, robbery and burglary.

Anyone found guilty of felonies including assault and battery, embezzlement, fraud, habitual driving while impaired and hit and run over the past 20 years can face a ban of 20 years.

Previously felonies received five year, 10-year and lifetime bans, depending on the severity of the charge.

Misdemeanors previously received one-year and seven-year bans.

The policy changes would make anyone found guilty in the past 15 years of a misdemeanor for charges including assault and battery, child endangerment, delinquency or contributing to the delinquency of a minor, domestic violence, drug charges, embezzlement, fraud, hit and run, providing alcohol to a minor and breaking, entering and larceny will be banned from volunteering for 15 years.

A guilty charge for drunk and disorderly or driving while impaired within the past five years will receive a five-year ban.

And a conviction in the past year for DWI, driving while license revoked, public intoxication or reckless driving will result in a one-year ban.

A repeat offender clause that was included in the old policy has been eliminated to make the policy stricter.

The county manager and /or the parks and recreation director can reject or ban any individual at any time it their background or behavior is not considered in the best interest of the program or participants.


Immediate loses

Hardy told the commissioners that approving the changes to the policy at the Aug. 19 county meeting would immediately make several coaches ineligible.

She said the Parks and Recreation department were prepared to recruit new coaches quickly.

Commissioner Marty Cooke said he was concerned that if two coaches on a team are affected by the new policy, there will be no coaches left to run the team.

“I’m in favor of (the policy update), but I’m concerned with the effect,” Cooke said.

Pryor said at the Aug. 19 meeting their projection was a 30 percent loss of coaches, but the basketball season would be most affected. The basketball leagues don’t begin until November, he added.

“We need 120 coaches for the basketball programs,” Pryor said.

“A lot of kids play sports.”

Cooke said the sports have to come second to mentoring the children.

Pryor reassessed the number of volunteers that could be affected by the policy changes Monday.

He said Parks and Recreation deals with almost 300 volunteers in a year and from one-third to one-tenth or around 30 to 40 volunteers.


Changing mid-stream

Commissioner Scott Phillips asked how many coaches who volunteer in the Parks and Rec program don’t have children involved in the sports.

Pryor said 35 to 40 percent of the coaches do not have children involved.

“A lot more here don’t have children involve and still do it,” he said.

Phillips said he believed there should be some leniency in the policy since the coaches volunteer their time for the children.

He also didn’t like the idea of changing the policy mid-stream – after the season has already begun.

Phillips said if the problem was so bad that the policy change will eliminate 30 percent of the volunteers from coaching, they should have made the changes last year.

He made a motion to table voting on the policy change for further discussion and investigation.

Commissioner Pat Sykes added to the discussion by stating her belief that it is not the responsibility or a requirement of the county to provide parks and recreation programs, but since they do it for the residents, they need to do it at a high standard.

“My feeling is, if they are coaching they are responsible for the children, so they must uphold the law,” Sykes said.

She said the board should approve the policy changes.

Cooke offered the compromise of not disrupting the season that has already begun, but notify the coaches that don’t meet the standards of the new volunteer policy that this will be their last year coaching.

“This would not adversely affect the season, but we won’t table or deviate (from the policy changes),” Cooke said.

“If we invoke it now, it will put teams off the map for the (Fall) sports.”

Football and cheerleading are the sports that are have begun practices. Games will begin in September.

Cooke said the compromise would allow ample time to find new coaches.

Commissioner Frank Williams asked if the policy vote would be tabled indefinitely or until a specific time.

“I have no problem changing the policy, just changing it mid-stream,” Phillips said, adding they can still enact the changes with time to find coaches for basketball season in November.

Phillips proposed bringing the policy change back for a vote at the second county meeting in September.

“Let’s go ahead and do it and not change anything. Parks and Recreation programs are continuous. I’m sure they are already getting applications,” Sykes said.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to hold off putting the new coaching volunteer policy into effect, with Sykes voting against the delay.


Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.