Man with criminal record nearly gets appointed to CATS board
BATON ROUGE - The lack of background checks for city appointments is blamed for a man with a criminal record being recommended to the troubled CATS board.
William Johnson barely missed getting appointed to the board at the previous Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting. Wednesday, Johnson was on the agenda again to replace former CATS board member Montrell McCaleb who was arrested and accused of stealing money from CATS.
Johnson withdrew his name when his past record came to light.
In 2009, Johnson pled guilty to attempted felony theft for a scheme involving a fake organization that claimed to raise money for a Zachary D.A.R.E. program.
"Certainly, I can't vote for someone with a felony conviction on their record," councilman John Delgado said.
Delgado was not aware Johnson had trouble on his record prior to Wednesday afternoon and supported Johnson before he knew about his felony conviction.
But Delgado believes the committee in charge of vetting Johnson should have known and told the council.
"The CATS board has been under such scrutiny, well deserved scrutiny for some time now," he said, "and I think putting someone with a criminal history on the board would just serve to further erode the public confidence in that body."
The Qualifications Review Committee questioned Johnson for more than 14 minutes in an earlier phase of the process. His criminal record was never a topic of the conversation.
The felon slipped through the cracks because the council does not let the Qualifications Review Committee do background checks on candidates, committee member Barry Meyer told WBRZ News 2.
"It wasn't in the purview of the committee to do a background check or ask those kinds of questions," Meyer said.
No review committee can do background checks for any board recommendations, he said.
"That's the information that we had to digest and give to the council in a manner to give to them in order to make their decision," Meyer said.
Delgado wants the committee to ask more specific questions.
"Ask the question," he said. "Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a felony? I think if they had just asked the question, at least hopefully the guy would have been honest and told the truth."
If a felon does lie about their arrest record, without a background check, there is still no way of knowing the individual's record.
This isn't the first time this has been a problem. Last year, the council was shocked when it was revealed two former heads of the library board were found to have criminal pasts in another state.
Both Delgado and Meyer believe allowing the review committees to do background checks would clean up the system.