Public Land Use Committee members question county policy on background checks

A Mohave County policy that calls for board and commission appointees to undergo background checks came under attack Tuesday during a meeting of a public land advisory panel.

Several members of the Mohave County Public Land Use Committee said the requirement is intrusive and that their information could be abused.

The county now requires the volunteer appointees to sign authorization forms about release of information.

The requirement had applied only to potential county employees.

The land committee members raised questions about the form to human resources director Geoff Riches, who explained that the background check is limited to determining addresses, Social Security numbers and criminal records.

And even after Riches made assurances, some committee members remained skeptical.

All seven members are up for renewal of their two-year terms this year.

"I think that the policy is open-ended," vice chairman and geologist Luis Vega said after the 30-minute discussion.

"I think it is an overreaction, and I think there is the possibility of mischief" of a government official releasing information to embarrass an appointee for political gain.

Vega and board members Anita Waite and Charlie Martin said they will not sign the form.

Chairman Jim Butcher and member Elno Roundy indicated they have not made a decision.

Members Don Martin and Truman Puchbauer said they signed the form.

Riches said afterward that he has heard few complaints about the form, adding most of them came from volunteers who reside within Supervisor Buster Johnson's District 3.

Johnson cast the "no" vote March 17 when Pete Byers of District 1 and Tom Sockwell of District 2 approved a policy that extends background checks to volunteers.

The supervisors approved the new policy in response to the delayed appointment of Don Van Brunt as a precinct committeeman for the Mohave County Republican Central Committee.

Van Brunt was convicted of felony counterfeiting more than 20 years ago.

Following the supervisors' March 17 action, the human resources department revised the application forms for boards and commissions so that they resemble standard job applications.

Riches told the committee members that the company that conducts the background checks, Automatic Data Processing of Roseland, N.J., does not inquire about other matters even though the release form refers to a credit check as well as the release of other information.

The release form states, "In connection with my appointment to Boards and Commission(s), I understand that a consumer report or an investigative consumer report may be requested that will include information as to my character, work habits, performance, and experience, along with reasons for termination of past employment.

I understand that as directed by County policy and consistent with the position described, you may be requesting information from public and private sources about my workers' compensation injuries, driving record, court record, education, credentials, credit, and references.

If company policy requires, I am willing to submit to drug testing to detect the use of illegal drugs prior to and during appointment."

The form also authorizes any law enforcement agency, institution, information service bureau, school, employer, reference or insurance company contacted by the county or its agent to furnish the above information.

"It is confidential and will not be used for any other purposes."

Waite, a rancher at Cane Springs north of Wikieup, said she fears environmental groups would gain access to her financial records.

Riches explained that the county hypothetically could require credit checks only for prospective employees who work for departments and offices that handle money, such as the public fiduciary.

He mentioned Michael Daw, a former public fiduciary sentenced to 10 years in state prison in 1997 for stealing about $900,000 from clients of his office.