Hillsborough Commissioners to relax policy on background checks for coaches?

04/18/07 Mitch E.Perry
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A new policy in Hillsborough County that has tightened background checks on volunteer athletic coaches was discussed today at the Board's meeting.

According to County Commissioner Brian Blair, the new policy is too restrictive, and he asked that the County loosen the regulations, which he says are denying good people the chance to help out kids(roll tape#1o .q."it's very wrong")

The changes barred anyone with criminal convictions from coaching children and eliminated an appeals process that had been used to grant some coaches waivers.

Earlier in the day, several different people went before the entire Board to echo Blair's remarks.

Ernest Matthews is the President of the Valrico Rams Youth Football and Cheerleading organization. He said the new policy is too broad (roll tape#2 o.q." of the background check")

Scott Levinson is the President of the Tampa Bay Youth Football league. Quoting the County's own web site, he said that there are 14,000 coaches have gone thru the Coaches certification, and none have ever harmed a child. (roll tape#3 o.q." but we don't want you"_

He said the County can't afford to lose good volunteers.

Mark Seamy coaches at Lato High School (roll tape#3 o.q."and they've made a difference")

But County officials say there's a good reason why the policy has gotten stricter.

Mark Thornton is the County's Director of Parks and Recreation He said after the new policy went into effect, of the 730 coaches who were reviewed, about 4% were then told they could not coach inside the County.(roll tape#4 o.q."they're not just youthful indiscretions")

And unlike Commissioner Blair or many of the coaches present at today's meeting, Director Thornton said he believed the new policy is more liberal that what was previously in place

The new policy also has County staff members acting arbiters in reviewing appeals. The coaches want volunteers to be those judging the appeals. Thornton didn't agree (roll tape#5 o.q."

(roll tape#5 o.q."neither should a volunteer")

But most of the Board sounded like they sympathized with the coaches

Commissioner Kevin White said the Board should follow Governor Charlie Crist's behavior. Last month, Crist called for overturning the current law that bans felons from automatically having their rights restored after having served their time.

And he mentioned support for Joe Redner's latest run for local office as proof that the community favors forgiving people of their past sins (roll tape#6 o.q." our children")

The Board then voted to have Thornton and his staff create a new appeals process- and also speeding up the background application process.

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