Southern Maine towns have different ways of checking the backgrounds of prospective employees, but one common step is a review of a candidate’s driving history before they’re hired, according to a sampling of town officials who described the process.

Questions about town hiring procedures follow the crash last week of a Kittery-owned transport bus that ran off the highway. John E. Guy, a 21-year-old camp counselor with a checkered driving history and a minor criminal record, was behind the wheel. There were 11 kids on board; some were hurt in the crash but all have since been released from area hospitals.

Although the town manager in Kittery said Monday that the hiring process should have included a review of Guy’s driving history, the town released a statement the following day describing its background check procedure, and driving history was not on the list of checks. The list included some criminal background checks through an unidentified online service, although that review did not turn up Guy’s accurate record for reasons the town said are unclear.

Now Kittery town officials are referring further questions about the process to an attorney, Edward Benjamin of Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum.

Benjamin did not respond to calls for comment or provide answers to questions sent to him via email.

BACKGROUND CHECKS STANDARD

Town managers in other communities said that some form of background check is standard in the pre-employment process, although each town varied slightly in their methods.

In Cape Elizabeth, Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said the town completes the background checks through its police department, which searches for past convictions or driving infractions through the State Bureau of Identification for criminal queries, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for driving histories.

“It’s fairly quick, (we get results) within a day,” Sturgis said. “It’s all part of the hiring process. Before you extend an invitation for someone to come work with you, you do the check. In this day and age, with the technology we have, there are things we can do today that we didn’t even do five years ago.”

In addition to Guy’s lengthy history of driving infractions, including two administrative convictions for driving to endanger, he also has epilepsy, according to a letter Guy wrote to a judge in an unrelated criminal case. The diagnosis could explain the medical emergency New Hampshire state police said he suffered immediately before the crash. It’s not clear whether the town was aware of his medical history.

Guy’s criminal and driving records should have been easily accessible.

The state records for criminal convictions and driving infractions are public. Anyone can sign up online with the state’s database and pay a nominal fee for each criminal history or driving record requested. For a member of the public it costs $22 to run a criminal background check, while a 10-year driving history costs $12.

Sturgis said the checks are performed on every new hire – full-time, part-time or seasonal. Some positions even require an additional credit history check for employees who would be handling cash or municipal funds.

“It’s routine,” he said. “You’re dealing with the public trust.”

DRIVING-HEAVY JOBS GET SCRUTINY

The town of Scarborough adheres to a similar process.

Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall said all employees undergo a basic level of screening through the sex offender registry, and through searches for driving and criminal records.

Part-time employees there are checked against criminal records in Maine, while candidates for full-time jobs are screened against a national criminal database, Hall said.

Driving records are checked annually, as well, to ensure there has been no significant change to the employee’s history or license status.

When the town finds an infraction, Hall said, managers weigh it against the duties of the job and seriousness of the incident.

“The more a position requires the operation of motor vehicles or equipment, the more heavily the driving record will be scrutinized and considered when evaluating the employment status,” Hall said in an email.

In Wells, the Parks and Recreation Department performs a standard criminal background check through the police department. Employees who drive the town’s 15-passenger vans have their driving histories checked and must undergo a training on defensive driving. Then the town takes new employees on a test drive in the van around town and on the turnpike accompanied by a recreational department manager, Town Manager Jonathan Carter said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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