St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Message: DON’T HIRE CONVICTS!

The St. Louis County Prosecutor has a message: Don’t hire convicts:

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch on Thursday denounced the county Economic Council’s recent hiring of a convicted felon, and called for the employee’s dismissal.

Last week, the council hired Dean Burns, 60, to serve as its vice president of real estate and community development, with an annual salary of $127,816.

Burns was working in the very same job in 1999 when he acceded to then-County Executive George R. “Buzz” Westfall’s demand that he quit after Burns pleaded guilty of diverting federal funds.

Burns admitted illegally transferring $30,000 in Housing and Urban Development rent deposits to his private company in 1994, about two years before he joined the Economic Council.

Actually, McCulloch has it in for this particular hire, and it’s all about appearances:

McCulloch said Burns’ hiring was akin to the county Health Department hiring a former drug addict to purchase pharmaceuticals.

“Hiring a felon is one thing, but you have to have some common sense about it,” he said. “I don’t know what the people who hired him were thinking, but I have to question their judgment. This makes the county look bad, and county government ought to correct it as soon as possible.”

Leaving aside the question of exactly how much Percocet the county is buying, McCulloch fails to understand the way his argument can look against hiring any felon for any job.

When you’re hiring for a job, you’ve got a lot of legal risks and liability not only for your organization and company, but for you personally within the company. If you’ve got someone with the right skills but a little box is checked on the application with the little handwritten explanation with it, your organization will probably hold you responsible if you bring a former drug addict in to work anywhere dealing with money. Or a former burglar dealing with small electronic devices. Or someone guilty of a sexual assault who deals with the members of any gender, frankly. Not only might the organization be responsible for any recidivism, but the person behind the hire internally will be on the hook for any infraction, whether just by taking a reputational hit or by actually being let go.

The man McCulloch talks about has experience in the position and has a combination of real estate development and sucking up to government skills acquired in the private sector for the position. He was convicted of the crime almost 20 years ago. Perhaps his one night in prison convinced him to be a good boy for the rest of his life.

As some of you know, there are two tracks one takes when arguing for prison and legal justice: one, you can rehabilitate the offender, and two, you can punish the offender. McCulloch seems to indicate his belief that offenders cannot be rehabilitated, they can only be punished. Forever, if possible.

McCulloch does say one thing that’s almost Tea Partier, though, when he says:

He said, “If Burns really is the most qualified guy in the country, I’d say we probably don’t need this position.”

A St. Louis County Economic Council who dishes out hundreds of thousands or millions in salaries every year and is part of the county government? Does St. Louis County really need that? Not the St. Louis County Government, mind you; it needs as much as it gets to continue its existence as a growing organism. But the County itself. By what right is this a function of government?

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