“Ban the box” resolution passes, fracas erupts at City Council meeting

Richmond's City Council approved a resolution in support of

Richmond's City Council approved a resolution in support of "banning the box", or removing Question 14 from city employment applications. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin felt the question was too high of a barrier for job seekers with a criminal history. (photo by: Rachel Waldholz)

The City Council voted Tuesday to remove a question about criminal convictions from city employment applications, saying the yes/no “box” was an onerous requirement for ex-convicts.

Question 14, displayed prominently on the first page of all applications for city jobs, asks: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Opponents of the question have long felt that it dissuades potential applicants with a criminal record from applying, making it difficult for them to obtain employment and contributing to the already high recidivism rate in the city.

Leslie Knight, Richmond’s assistant city manager, said the question had a “chilling effect” on potential applicants, disproportionally affecting African Americans and Latinos. According to Knight, removing the question would send a different message. “What we’re really doing is saying, “Everyone is welcome to apply’,” Knight said.

The City Council largely viewed the “ban the box” resolution as a social justice issue.

“We have to correct a justice system that is unfair,” said Councilmember Jeff Ritterman. “This is really trying to correct a societal problem that runs pretty deep.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said that a dearth of jobs for ex-convicts helped to perpetuate crime in the city.

“That fact that we have recidivism stems from the fact that opportunities aren’t provided, so we have to remove barriers,” McLaughlin said. “Banning the box is removing a barrier.”

Councilmember Nat Bates abstained from voting and was the lone dissenting voice, saying that those with criminal records should not hide their history. He also took particular issue with a proposed supplemental background questionnaire; in place of Question 14, applicants for city employment would have to answer questions about their criminal background if they were being considered for a position where such a background check was deemed a business necessity or was legally required.

“You’re playing with people’s lives,” Bates said. “You give the person the impression that everything is going to be OK, that I don’t have to respond to my record.”

Looking for clarification, Bates asked, “What jobs don’t require a supplemental background questionnaire?”

“City Council,” responded Ritterman, garnering a chuckle from the audience.

According to Knight, Human Resources would determine what jobs would or would not require it. A position as an engineer or electrician would not, for example, while a Parks and Recreation employee, who might be supervising minors, would.

Richmond resident Rev. Kenneth Davis was escorted out of the council chambers at the request of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin after an outburst that interrupted the Mayor. (photo by: Derek Lartaud)

Richmond resident Rev. Kenneth Davis was escorted out of the council chambers at the request of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin after an outburst that interrupted the Mayor. (photo by: Derek Lartaud)

Despite near unanimous approval of the ban the box measure from the council and the audience, a fracas erupted when Richmond resident and community activist Rev. Kenneth Davis, dressed in combat fatigues, interrupted McLaughlin mid-sentence, saying, “You’re a racist.” McLaughlin asked for quiet, and Davis responded, “I know you ain’t talking about me.” McLaughlin then ordered the police to escort Davis from the council chambers, amidst Davis’ objections.

“You mean you would deny me my civil right, lady?” Davis said. “You mean to tell me you can’t deal with this?”

Shortly after the disruption, a visibly shaken McLaughlin asked Vice Mayor Tom Butt to take over the meeting, saying she had a “short errand to run.”

McLaughlin returned about 15 minutes later, to a closing harangue from Councilmember Corky Booze.

“There’s going to be somebody that comes into these council chambers,” Booze said. “When you dis him, like you just did to Rev. Davis, you better be hiding yourself. Because the people that you’re trying to save are the same people that have no problem going to jail for the rest of their natural lives.”

8 Comments

  1. Josh Davenhall

    Corky Booze’s statement is shameful. He does not care for the Mayor’s safety, and he does not help it. On the contrary his statement is almost a call for the violence that he implies will happen for removing a disorderly individual from the audience. Typical bully. Blowing air into the ambers of violence, creating a climate of fear and intimidation and trying to ride it. Not too long ago he threatened to ‘brake the nose’ of Councilmember Ritterman. Now he finds a veiled way to encourage others to attack the Mayor with physical violence. What will be next?

    • Felix Hunziker

      Josh, you’re a bit too biased and it shows. Booze’s stating a warning that as much as we want people to change and become productive members of our society there will be those who simply resort to violence as a way to solve their problems. It’s an indirect commentary on banning the box.

      • roberto reyes

        Shame on you Police Commissioner Hunziker for supporting Councilman Booze’s statements. He needs to be recalled and you need to resign from the commission.

  2. MIke Parker

    Corky’s threatening comments were clearly directed at the Mayor in response to her asking that a disruptive person be removed from the council chambers. Throughout the meeting the person continuously interrupted and disrupted both public speakers and council members. After providing several warnings, the Mayor asked that he be removed from the chambers.

    Instead of helping to maintain a reasonable and fair process in the chamber, Booze attempted to turn this into a racial issue. “When you dis a person in the street…what just happened in this room to an African American man—you let that happen in front of you –you’re just as bad as the problem that is happening. “ He then continued with the threatening statement.

    You can see this for yourself at http://richmond.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=11&clip_id=2735
    Go to 5:21:00

  3. Vanessa Gray

    Wow! This is crazy! The comment that council person made sounds like a Soprano quote. Very gangster. Why do the people of Richmond put up with this? If I lived in Richmond, I’d be seriously concerned about this kind of talk coming from someone who is in a position of power. If he felt comfortable enough to say this to an audience, I wonder how he talks to the city staff and community members when no one else can hear? Scary. He shouldn’t be a public official with that kind of behavior that’s straight street/prison.

  4. Richmondite

    Lead by example. Shouldn’t the quest of all members of the city council be to establish a sense of civility and decorum at City Council meetings so that 1) all voices can be heard 2) and respect shown to each person? When citizens come to the microphone to raise issues, and provide comment, what incentive is there for them to continue to care about issues in their community and seek city support (or at least awareness) when they are harangued?

    Abasing speakers does nothing but provide a momentary boost to one’s ego at the cost of eroding faith in our elected officials and the city itself.

    Rules are rules, and the rules are there to ensure order and fairness. If you go beyond your two minutes to speak, slur council members or others in the community, and refuse to take your seat, then you are breaking the rules, and not interested in order and fairness.

    Likewise as a council member, if you grill and harass speakers, whether they be from the public or from city staff, or representing firms the city has contracted, or other agencies and organizations who may be presenting information to the City Council, then you are showing a lack of respect for the rules and appear dis-interested in order, fairness, and respect.

  5. Don Gosney

    Here in Richmond we have groups who can’t distinguish our City Council meetings from the Jerry Springer Show where those that are in front of the crowd are fair game to be harangued, harassed and even threatened.

    There will always be noise when you have a group setting but it seems that the Mayor has selective hearing and tends to ignore her disruptive friends and associates while threatening to evict anyone who might disagree with her.

    I thought that was the case when she chose to have evicted someone who has been opposing her and her policies while remaining silent when others were making as much or more noise.

    Just a few minutes earlier when I rose to speak against her “ban the box” resolution her associates in the audience disagreed with what I was saying. They hissed, they booed and a few “unkind” words were catcalled in my direction. Considering the history of some of these people (and I don’t necessarily mean the ex felons) I stopped what I was saying to look behind me to check on my own safety. Yet the Mayor was silent and no effort was made to silence these people who were certainly more disruptive than Mr. Davis was.

    There is no question that, by virtue of her office, the Mayor is imbued with specific powers and she wanted to make that clear even as the meeting started when she announced that she would be strictly enforcing specific rules about disruptive persons at the meeting.

    Common sense tells us that in an effort to SEEM inclusive an elected LEADER might bring this up for discussion with her other Councilmembers and even let the public weigh on but this Mayor chose to step up like a third world tyrant and announce that these were her edicts.

    Of course, she called on her City Attorney to back her up.

    When she acted out late in the evening and threw Mr. Davis out of her meeting, Councilmember Boozé tried to warn her that showing disrespect in certain circles can be dangerous. If a person is walking too close to the edge of a cliff and you warn them they might slip and fall, is that the same as threatening to push them off? Of course not. So how was Councilmember Boozé’s warning a threat? If you keep poking your finger at a crocodile you shouldn’t be surprised if she bites your arm off.

    Sometimes the Mayor and her friends can blind themselves to reality and fail to see the harshness of the world we live in. She and her followers can defend the gangbangers (also known as ONS Fellows—named because the City uses ONS Fellowship money to pay them not to use guns when they conduct their nefarious affairs) who resort to violence in the offices at City Hall or they can try to rebuild the self esteem of the 78% of the recently released convicted felons walking the streets of Richmond who statistics tell us will be back in prison within the next three years, but in the real world we know that many of these people turn to violence for the slightest sign of disrespect. And that’s what our Mayor is becoming known for—showing disrespect—as she tries to shut down speakers, interrupts speakers, tries to shut down fellow members of the Council and blatantly shows bias towards her dittoheads and against those who disagree with her.

    • Jeff Ritterman

      I’m shocked at Mr. Gosney’s re-wrting of history. The mayor did not disrespect anyone. Reverend Davis was out of order and provoked a confrontation. Councilmember Booze then falsely accused the mayor of disrespecting Revend Davis and predicted a violent response. Let’s be clear. Reverend Davis was out of order, not the mayor. The mayor did not act out like you claim Mr. Gosney. Its false claims like that which make everything worse. Let’s stick to the facts and reality and not make things up just to suit one’s political fancy, Mr Gosney.

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