Government watch: Lee’s Summit tightens background checks for youth coaches and others

A tighter policy is now in place for background checks on Lee’s Summit parks employees, volunteers and athletic groups using the parks system.

The Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation board unanimously passed the revised policy Dec. 4.

The department, working with leaders of soccer and other youth sports associations for months, had been revising an earlier proposal that initially displeased the volunteer organizations.

“We just need to make sure we have a net that will pull out the people who’ve been convicted, a very small number in our community,” said Tom Lovell, parks administrator.

The city looked at updating its policy after federal prosecutors charged a soccer coach with attempting to produce child pornography by secretly videotaping nude members of his team in his home.

The groups and parks department already had background checks in place, but the department wanted to adopt tighter rules recommended by the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Sports association leaders, however, feared the initial proposal could disqualify coaches who were not a threat to children and perhaps discourage people from volunteering.

The issues heated up in July, causing a flurry of comments on area talk radio.

One controversial proposal would have disqualified people convicted of misdemeanor alcohol offenses, but the department backed away from that rule. Because three alcohol-related offenses would become a felony, background checks based on felony convictions would disqualify problem drinkers, Lovell said.

The new policy disqualifies volunteers or employees who’ve had any sex offense conviction or any felony convictions within 10 years. It also disqualifies those with misdemeanor violence convictions (within seven years) or misdemeanor drug-related offenses (within five years or multiple convictions within 10 years).

Other disqualifiers include convictions for supplying alcohol to a minor, assisting in child abduction or parental kidnapping, or endangering the welfare of a child, second degree.

During research and discussion, the parties looked at policies used elsewhere and agreed that a “black and white” list wasn’t workable.

That’s why the new process includes a review board to consider situations where a person is flagged for a felony conviction not directly related to safety of children, such as not wearing a seatbelt.

“Together we can deal with anything that comes up in a gray area,” Lovell said.

Ron Cox, president of the Lee’s Summit Soccer Association, said he thought the parks staff had done a tremendous amount of work to create a good policy.

Cox said most coaches and volunteers are not that many years past college days when they may have had a youthful indiscretion. Now they’re more mature with young families.

“We wanted them to have opportunity to be able to coach their own kids,” Cox said. “At the end of the day everyone wants to protect the kids from sexual predators.”

The policy isn’t intended to address issues such as a coach who yells at kids or curses during games.

The sports associations already have processes for those problems.

“They do a very good job of policing those things,” Lovell said.

The youth sports associations and parks department also are working on implementing an education program for parents and children.

“To help them resist being put into situations that aren’t healthy for them,” Lovell said.