Waterloo mayoral candidates

Frank Magsamen, Leah Morrison, Quentin Hart, Tim Hurley, Wayne Nathem

WATERLOO | Five people are hoping you check the box next to their name on the Nov. 3 Waterloo mayoral ballot.

But only one them is against a "Ban the Box" ordinance that would require all employers in the city to remove questions about criminal history from initial job applications.

Former Mayor Tim Hurley voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance Wednesday during a candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber economic development organization.

The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights has been pushing for adoption of the ordinance, which is scheduled for a City Council work session Monday and a potential vote in early November.

Some major employers, including Wal-Mart, Target and Koch Industries, have voluntarily adopted "Ban the Box" policies, while many large cities across the country have made it mandatory practice for all employers in their jurisdictions.

Companies still can ask about criminal records and conduct background checks as the hiring process moves forward. The proposal is designed to ensure persons with past offenses at least get a chance to show employers their job qualifications and skills first.

"I do support taking a look at this and evaluating it and using common sense," said mayoral candidate Frank Magsamen. "But in general I support it."

Leah Morrison said she was initially opposed to the idea as an employer herself. But she wound up learning someone working for her had five felonies, all more than 10 years old.

"This is one of those life lessons that smacks you in the face when it comes along," Morrison said. "I was so remorseful that if I had had that check mark I probably would have done what most employers would have done and thrown that application in the trash can. We love her, and I can't imagine life without her."

Quentin Hart, who works in human resources at Hawkeye Community College, also came down in favor of the measure. He said he's worked on programs that help returning felons obtain job skills.

"I want to see those people be successful as well," Hart said. "They paid their debt to society, but they need to have opportunities to be able to earn a livable wage for their families as well."

Hart later said helping those returning from the criminal justice system find jobs could also reduce crime rates.

Wayne Nathem, who said he's hired people with criminal records at his own business, was the fourth mayoral candidate in favor of the ordinance.

"I have no problem with 'Ban the Box,'" Nathem said. "They've done their time; I believe in giving them a second chance."

But Hurley, who stated support for the measure last week, said he has changed his mind "at least for the time being."

"I can't find a reason why Waterloo wants to be the first city in the state to do this," he said. "I can't understand why we would do it with contiguous cities all around us who are vying for the same business and dollars that we are … to give them a possible hand up.

"I can't understand why we would do it without addressing the concerns of potential liability on the employer and the landlords," he added, noting a separate ordinance would ban questions about felony convictions on rental applications.

Current Mayor Buck Clark, who is not seeking re-election, said the measure was originally slated for a vote next week. But he agreed with those who said a work session should be held before the ordinance is placed on an agenda.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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