Volunteers chafe under new background check rules

Members of the Community Emergency Response Team work a coronavirus event at the Douglas County Senior Center in May 2021.

Members of the Community Emergency Response Team work a coronavirus event at the Douglas County Senior Center in May 2021.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.


As the Tamarack Fire loomed above Double Spring Flat, members of Douglas County Search and Rescue were helping notify residents of the impending danger.

During the Caldor Fire members of the Citizens Emergency Response Team helped operate the evacuation shelter at the Douglas County Community & Senior Center.

The team also helps conduct the vaccination clinics at the senior center.

Douglas County relies on volunteers, so when three of them turn up at a county commission meeting there’s at least smoke.

Team Coordinator Steve Schlaifer told commissioners that they were told members would have to undergo annual background checks, including fingerprinting.

“This is a bit of an overkill that Douglas County taxpayers are going to have to cover,” Schlaifer said. “Basically you’re going to have to open your entire life to Douglas County Human Resources, and they can ask anybody anything they want about you and you have no right to see the information they gather. I find this highly objectionable and I’m losing team members because of it.”

Team Leader Bill Sugden expressed concern that if someone was stirring the pot, they might be rejected in the background check process.

“We are losing volunteers,” he said. “I’ve lost six members that I know of. We have 55 CERT members. We can’t afford to lose people.”

Young at Heart President Rick Towner said that many of their volunteers help with events at the center.

“We would appreciate anything you guys can do to make it easier,” he said.

Volunteers to coach youth sports or work in schools have had to be fingerprinted and had their backgrounds checked for years.

One of the requirements to volunteer in the county’s Good Neighbor Program is to undergo a background check, as an example.

County Manager Patrick Cates said two issues are coming to a head at the same time.

“We’ve been struggling to streamline our background process for volunteers,” he said. “Prior to last year, we had no consistent process. Some received no background checks, some were done out of compliance with state requirements.”

Because of the inconsistency, the county shifted responsibility for the checks from individual departments to the human resources department.

“There are multiple requirements, particularly for grant-funded programs that involve children or vulnerable populations,” Cates said in his response to Towner. “Failure to perform adequate background checks can put funding at risk, pose significant liabilities for the county, and of course, increase risk to those being served.”

Not helping is that the coronavirus outbreak has delayed processing fingerprints, which is done by the Department of Public Safety.

“They’ve been backlogged, resulting in significant delays for volunteers and new employees as well.”

Cates said he recognizes how important volunteers are to Douglas County.

“I understand how vital volunteers are to the county, and our citizens I have great respect for those who freely give their time to help the community,” he said. “Based on feedback we’ll meet with the HR director and deputy district attorney to see where we are in current backlogs and what if anything we can do to streamline the process.”

As far as the volunteers for CERT, Cates said the county is transferring that responsibility to East Fork Fire Protect District, which also serves as the county’s emergency management.

“They will have to follow the same procedure, but with a smaller number of volunteers they will be able to more quickly process applications.”

Commission Chairman Mark Gardner said it was something the county would need to address.

“We have a tremendous outpouring of volunteers in this community, and we certainly don’t want to turn any of that off,” he said.


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