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County to conduct background checks on more applicants

It’s a cheap insurance policy.

That’s how Mower County officials described a decision to begin conducting criminal background checks before hiring certain new employees. On Tuesday, the Mower County Board of Commissioners signed an agreement with a company to conduct criminal background checks on potential new employees.

“This is just common sense,” Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said. “You need to know who you are hiring.”

“With the information that’s out there, the public presumes that you know,” she added.

Each background check would cost about $66: about $20 for a country criminal record search, about $20 for a national criminal database search, $16 for a statewide criminal record search, and $10 for a search of the national sex offender public registry.

“We have an obligation to the taxpayers to make sure our employees are not a danger to others out there,” Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

The personnel committee will review the issue to write a policy addressing which employees receive background checks. The change will likely affect new hires in sensitive areas, especially those that commonly interact with the public or visit homes, Oscarson said.

The county board decided to sign the agreement now, so the county could get a criminal background check so a new social worker can be hired.

Background checks may even be performed on employees who are promoted within the county, but Oscarson said that would have to be discussed with the county unions.

Oscarson said they background checks would only be done on the top candidate for a position. The candidate would have a job offer pending the background check. The checks won’t be used to decide between candidates.

For the most part, only crimes that directly affect someone’s job would affect a decision, Oscarson said. For example, if someone was arrested for drunk driving more than a year ago, it likely wouldn’t come into play, he said.

“There’s the philosophy that if it’s a minor crime and you’ve done your time, you should be given a clean bill of health,” Oscarson said.

Some staff suggested that credit history checks be performed on potential employees that would handle money for the county. However, Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said that’s a tricky area, because it doesn’t take much to damage someone’s credit. Gabrielson said he often uses such checks as an insurance agent.

The county already does criminal background checks on all law enforcement hires — sheriff’s deputies, dispatcher and jailers.