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City audit shows convicted felons worked with kids

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—A new city audit raises questions over how the city administration handles its recreation department; specifically, services that are provided to your kids.

In a 23-page audit, City Auditor Umesh Dalal and his staff looked at how the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities conducted background checks over an 18-month period that ended last December.

The report said that proper procedures were not followed.  Richmond has a policy that states background checks must be conducted for all employees and volunteers working closely with children.

According to the City Auditor’s findings, three of the 30 volunteers hired should not have been, because they were convicted felons. Those felons were convicted for crimes which include contributing to the delinquency of a minor, assault, and drug possession. The convictions dated back to as recently as 2009.

The report also stated that almost half–14 of the 30 volunteers–did not even go through a background check at all.  The reports said that may be because management relied on field staff to provide them names of volunteers that need background checks.

Parents that spoke with CBS 6 said this practice should  not be tolerated in the city of Richmond.

 “It is alarming,” said Audra Scott.  “I definitely think that it’s important that the community knows who those people are, and that they’re working with them.”

“And again, not to say that those individuals can’t do great things within the community,” added Scott. “But that certainly, I think that proper procedures needs to be in place.”

“We found that we are working with thousands of volunteers, keeping in mind that we run a great park system as well as many recreation programs,” Norman Merrifield, Richmond Parks and Recreation Director, said.  “Maybe one or two people have came on board as volunteers and it just simply was an oversight.”

According to the City Auditor’s report, depending on where you live in Richmond, residents don’t have the same access to recreation centers for neither seniors nor kids.

The report said the need for the property depends upon the demographic composition of the population within districts.  Typically, neighborhoods that are more affluent may be able to afford private facilities compared to other communities.

That’s a concern to Shae Smith who believes it sends the wrong message to kids.

“They’re really contradicting themselves to say they need to be involved in some activities,” said Smith.  “But there’s really no activities for them to get involved in.”

 “Recreation should not be defined in terms of facilities but in terms of services,” Merrifield said. “And we continue to look at the services on each side of town to determine whether or not that need is actually there.”

Even though, Merrifield has only been on the job for a year, he told CBS 6 that the city is tightening its background check to ensure your child’s safety.

He said the administration will look at ideal locations for recreation centers and present a list to City Council for approval.

The City Auditor said out of the 15 recommendations suggested to the administration involving problems within the city’s recreation services, the administration did not agree with six of them.

RELATED: Auditors say city and school leaders dismiss advice.