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May 22, 2018
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Quorum Court looks to enforce background checks

One county employee refuses to comply after issues raised about constitutionality, process

By Kaitlyn Rigdon
This article was published November 4, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

By Kaitlyn Rigdon

Staff Writer

Though Union County began requiring background checks for all county employees earlier this fall, one person has failed to comply and officials are trying to determine what the next step should be.

At a special meeting Friday, the Union County Quorum Court discussed a resolution for legal action because not all county employees have complied with the new requirement. Ordinance 1457, which was passed on Sept. 21, requires all county employees and officials to submit to a criminal background check and sign a written agreement authorizing the background checks.

The only person who has not complied is the executive administrator of the tax collector’s office, Conor Gleason, who previously called the ordinance unconstitutional. At the meeting Friday, the resolution being discussed stated that because one employee has failed to sign the consent form, the county’s fidelity bond coverage is in jeopardy.

Last month, the Quorum Court passed a resolution stating those who refuse to consent to the background checks would have their pay withheld. Gleason is currently working without being paid, which County Judge Mike Loftin considers a liability.

Paula Beard, Union County tax collector, said Gleason has signed the form submitting to a background check, but it has not been turned in to Loftin. Beard previously voiced her concern about Loftin receiving all of the background checks, suggesting that they instead be reviewed by a committee.

Prosecuting Attorney John Thomas Shepherd presented several options to the court and said the ordinance, as written, is constitutional.

“The Quorum Court has no discretion to hire and fire employees of an office, however, the Quorum Court can pass general policies that affect every employee of every office,” Shepherd said. “The background check and its ordinance is a general policy that applies to every employee. It’s constitutional.”

During the meeting Friday, Beard was asked to attend and answer questions, but she declined.

“My attorney has addressed the issues on my behalf and so I’m going to let him handle this situation,” Beard said in a phone interview after the meeting.

After debating possible plans of action, Loftin said the court only has two options: pass the resolution and take legal action or don’t pass the resolution and let the prosecuting attorney do what he feels is best.

“We passed Ordinance 1457 to protect the county,” Loftin said. “We’re not here to be head hunters or to try to fire anybody. The background check is strictly due diligence in case something happens and the bonding company comes in. Then we can say we’ve done all we can do.”

The court ultimately opted not to pass the resolution and instead let the prosecuting attorney step in and take action. Shepherd said the prosecuting attorney is able to “institute an action to compel a county officer to do an act that she is required to do. In this case, an action to compel the tax collector to enforce this ordinance on her employee.”

“In the alternative, the prosecuting attorney can institute an action to remove the county officer for incompetence or nonfeasance, essentially for not following the law,” Shepherd said.

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or krigdon@eldoradonews.com.

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