Should businesses with child-friendly amenities like playgrounds have to perform background checks on their employees before obtaining a business license? That’s a question Commissioner Julie Carson wants to answer.
Protecting children from sexual offenders became a hot topic in this city earlier this year after it became public that a registered sex offender was employed at The Pride Center at Equality Park. The facility has a playground that is frequented by children. The community center at 2040 N. Dixie Highway was built to provide same-sex couples a place for their children to play. The facility serves the LGBT community.
The commission will likely discuss the topic at its next meeting.
“A number of people have spoken to me on how we can ensure our children are protected in Wilton Manors. The only way I have determined that we might be able to do it … is to tie the issuance of a business license or business tax receipt to background checks of employees and volunteers,” Carson said at the June 26 commission meeting.
Former Pride Center employee Clarence Charles Collins, 63, was fired earlier this year after news of his arrest for the rape of an 11-year-old girl got out. Collins was arrested in 1995 and later confessed to raping the girl and threatening her with a gun if she told anyone. He had been employed as a janitor at the Pride Center for years and sometimes worked near children.
State statutes prohibit sex offenders from working around children. Pride Center CEO Robert Boo fired Collins in mid-March after a parent implored him to take action. At the time, he claimed ignorance of the law.
The Florida Department of Children and Families requires employees and volunteers who work at daycare facilities, camps, and mental health facilities that serve children to undergo background checks. But the status of the Pride Center — because it is not a preschool or camp — is less clear.
“My concern here is while there are many people that do follow the law and understand the law as far as protecting our children, we have seen recently that that may not be the case,” Carson said. “I would like to have the city manager consider if there a way we can tie business licenses to criteria for background checks.”
Under Florida law, a sex offender whose victim was under 18 years old cannot live within 1,000 feet of schools or places where children congregate.
Vice Mayor Justin Flippen said the issue should be researched.
“State law currently requires many child-oriented businesses to conduct background checks and to not hire employees or to separate from employment those who fail these background checks,” Flippen said. “Whether there is a need for local cities to mandate background checks beyond those required by state law … is something we can collaboratively determine as a city commission.”