Akron has become the latest Ohio city to loosen hiring requirements for those with criminal records.

The Civil Service Commission on Tuesday adopted several policy changes that will make it easier for people with felony convictions to at least be considered for one of the city’s approximately 1,800 jobs.

Those who have been pushing for Akron to change its hiring requirements hailed the changes as a victory.

“This is a very big step for our city,” said Kea Mathis, a felon and member of Stand Up for Akron, a local community-activist group that has been pushing for changes in the hiring policy.

Under the revised policy, employees applying for nonsafety-sensitive positions no longer will see a box on the application asking if they have a felony conviction. They will be able to go through the civil service testing process and, if they qualify based on their scores, then would be required to provide the city with information about their criminal records during the interview process.

Those applying for safety-sensitive positions, including police officers, paramedics and dispatchers, still will be required to check the box asking about felony convictions.

The commission also lowered the number of years felons must wait after serving their sentences to be considered for a job with the city from five to three, except in the cases of convictions for violent, sexual or drug-related crimes.

‘Ban the box’

Numerous Ohio communities have relaxed hiring requirements for felons, a movement that has been dubbed “ban the box.” Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland are among the larger cities to take the step. Canton and Stark County also adopted more lenient rules earlier this year.

Akron decided to take a look at its hiring policies at the urging of Mayor Don Plusquellic and Akron City Council, which passed a resolution in July urging the move. The city also wanted to comply with new guidelines the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adopted in April 2012 related to the hiring of felons, said Patty Ambrose Rubright, Akron’s personnel director.

The city looked at the updated hiring policies other large Ohio cities had adopted.

“We have taken bits and pieces,” Rubright said. “We liked some and didn’t like others. I think we’ve come up with our own that mirrors some parts of other cities.”

Under Akron’s new policy, job applicants who score the highest on civil service tests will undergo a preliminary background check. They could be disqualified based on a previous conviction or could remain on the hiring list and scheduled for an interview. A more thorough background check will be done after a conditional job offer is made, and a candidate could be disqualified and the job offer withdrawn.

Applicants who are disqualified will have the opportunity to appeal to the Criminal Conviction Review Committee, made up of officials with the city’s Personnel Department.

Asked if applicants with certain convictions would be disqualified immediately, Rubright said, “We haven’t crossed that bridge. I think we would look at the conviction and determine if it is job-related.” She said the city would “look at every conviction in relation to the safety of employees and citizens and fairness to the applicants.”

Learning from mistakes

George Johnson, president of the Akron Chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said his union represents more employees with criminal records than the city’s three other unions. He noted that the city recently denied his brother a custodial job because of a felony conviction for nonpayment of child support.

“For me, I think folks make mistakes and they learn from them,” said Johnson, whose union represents about 400 members. “If you don’t give them an opportunity, there’s a good chance they will go back to doing what they were doing.”

Damareo Cooper, who is with Stand Up for Akron, an offshoot of the statewide group Stand Up for Ohio, said he was pleased with the policy changes, though he was disappointed that drug convictions weren’t limited to three years. His group was among those that city officials consulted in developing its revised policies.

Akron is “doing at least what other cities have done,” Cooper said. “Personally, I would like to see Akron be a little more progressive in how it looks at felony charges.”

Others with Stand Up for Akron, including several who have felony records, agreed.

“I think it’s a start,” said Raymond Greene Jr. of Akron, a four-time convicted felon who has had trouble finding a job outside of a temporary agency. “We’ve got a lot of work to go.”

Those who were pushing for the changes hope Akron’s move will prompt other area government agencies and private businesses to look at their hiring policies.

Mathis, 35, who lives in Akron but works in Canton, would like to find a job in her hometown. She has felony convictions for attempted murder and felonious assault for a fight more than 15 years ago, when she was 19. She was released from prison in December 2010 and will be on probation until 2015, according to the state prison website.

“If I do my volunteer work here, why can’t I get a job here?” she asked.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.