The Mobile City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the Mobile County Personnel Board to remove the box pertaining to arrest history from employment applications. The final decision rests with the board, but if approved, Mobile will join in a nationwide effort known as “Ban the Box.”

Councilman Levon Manzie introduced the resolution and all three members of the council rules committee last week recommended it be put to a vote.

Manzie said he decided to introduce the resolution after talking with constituents who’ve made mistakes, but paid their debt and find the arrest record question a problem for them on the job hunt.

“We talk a lot about rehab,” Manzie said during the committee meeting. “We want individuals who are out of incarceration not to fall back to recidivism. This is a program that allows these individuals to get a foot in the door.”

Mobile County Personnel Director Donald Dees told councilors during the committee meeting that checking the box related to convictions doesn’t preclude anyone from getting hired and “it is part of the screening process” the board does for the city anyway. Dees said the decision to place a candidate among a list of qualified candidates is based on a candidate’s skills related to a particular job.

“We do not screen you out,” Dees said. “The only automatic disqualification is for public safety.”

Dees said the personnel board does not do background checks. That’s the responsibility of the hiring entity.

“If you apply and do not mark the box, we don’t check,” Dees said.

Some councilors mentioned adding background checks for employees working in finance or with children, if the box is removed from the application. City Attorney Ricardo Woods said the administration would work with the council additional amendments.

“Unless you’re talking about public safety, finance or working with kids, it’s an non-issue for us,” Woods said of “banning the box.”

Councilwoman Bess Rich tentatively went along with Councilmen John Williams and C.J. Small in moving the resolution out of committee.

She said she wanted the resolution to specify the move for applications for jobs within the city. She argued that the board might be more willing to pass it if it only affected one entity.

Other councilors, like Joel Daves and Williams, argued that the council should leave that concern up to the board.

Councilman Fred Richardson said in the future, he would also introduce a resolution to take out the box that indicates race on city applications. He called the issue a carryover from slavery.

“It’s time to let it go,” Richardson said.

Professional services contract with Booth Research Group

In other business, the council decided to holdover for one week the approval of an appropriation of $514,570 to Booth Research Group for improved testing of candidates for promotion within the Mobile Police and Mobile Fire and Rescue departments.

The administration was asking the council for the appropriation in order to revamp testing in those departments to help encourage diversity among the ranks in both departments. Chief James Barber said it would be a revamp of the testing the personnel board performs. He said written, test-based training has had an adverse impact on developing diversity. The written tests, he said, have failed to produce a diverse list of candidates for promotion in the past.

He said the Booth Research testing would involve real world scenarios to determine if an applicant has the appropriate skills for the promotion.

Rich asked for the holdover and recommended the payout be discussed further in committee.

Executive Director of Public Safety Richard Landolt said the testing would apply only to rank-and-file promotions within the departments and would not be used to select a new fire chief.

The contract with Booth would be for three years and would not exceed $514,570. Barber the cost could cover everyone in each department for testing, but that has not been planned.

Two Mobile staff attorneys arguing Supreme Court case

Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office announced Tuesday that Chief Assistant City Attorney Flo Kessler and Assistant City Attorney Erich Bergdolt are in Washington D.C. to represent the city in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case, Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation, concerns whether a state tax on diesel fuel is discriminatory to the railroad industry. The city collects a similar tax on diesel fuel and because of that, CSX is claiming $134,672 in refunds from the city.

Mobile isn’t the only city in the state with refund requests from CSX. Altogether, municipalities across the state are facing claims that add up to almost $23 million. As a result, they’ve agreed to sign onto Mobile’s petition.

In other business

The council approved a takeover agreement with American Southern Insurance Company for the completion of sidewalks in the Bottom community. The insurance company is a bonding agency for Peavy Construction, which went out of business during the project, City Engineer Nick Amberger said. A quarter of the project, or $85,000 worth of work, remains to be finished, he said.

Chief Barber also announced to councilors that he would be presenting three different styles of body cameras for MPD officers during the regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 10:30 a.m.

Also, the council accepted right-of-way deeds and temporary construction easements needed for the McGregor Avenue roundabout. Surface work on the project should start in March or April.