Fort Smith Civil Service Commission To Suspend Using Credit Reports In Hiring Firefighters

FORT SMITH, AR — The Civil Service Commission will stop considering firefighter applicants’ credit reporting information until it receives human resources training from the city following a Wednesday vote by the commission.

Human Resources Director Naomi Roundtree said that although she was not opposed to the commission using credit reporting information, there should be a standard practice for how the commission uses it.

Applicants go through both the Fire Department and the Civil Service before they are hired. The Fire Department uses credit reporting information when considering applicants, and the staff reviewing the applicants are trained on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fire Chief Phil Christensen said. The department reviews the credit reports with the applicants, allowing them to explain why they may have bad credit.

“If they give valid reasons, we’re good with it,” Assistant Fire Chief Boyd Waters said. “We understand that people go through struggles and have problems. It’s for the individual that says, ‘Yeah, I just haven’t gotten to that yet. It’s been late, but I’m just not too worried about it.’”

Waters said that because the Police and Fire Departments try to hold themselves to a higher standard, they look at this as part of a person’s character.

“I think the big difference is you all are trained in the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” Civil Service Commission Chairman Chip Sexton said.

Sexton, who later said he would like to no longer use credit reporting information at all, raised the question of if using credit information could disproportionately affect certain applicants, using a hypothetical example of a single mother not receiving child support payments versus someone with no children to support.

Starting pay for a Fort Smith firefighter is $10.31 per hour.

Commissioner Bob Cooper said he looks at how the position the applicants are applying for will help them better themselves financially.

“From an HR perspective, you don’t really get into that … because at the end of the day, we are going to get resumes from people who are overqualified,” Roundtree said. “You’re not supposed to take that into account or have that affect your decision whether you bring somebody in. I may have a guy who is going to be digging ditches all day, but maybe he’s coming from a position that’s a much more advanced position but he’s choosing to apply for that type of position. You cannot weed someone out of that process simply because that maybe doesn’t make sense. You can certainly question it, but it should not be something that prevents that person from going on just because you think it’s weird.”

Cooper agreed.

Roundtree said she is concerned that commissioners have varied reasons for why they want to look at credit information.

“I think it goes beyond Fair Credit Reporting Act (training). That’s not something that takes an extended amount of time to do. I think you have to understand from an HR perspective how to be objective in the ways that you need to be. I think that’s the heavier training that’s needed, less so the law itself,” Roundtree said.

The commission should have a standardized way to score applicants, she said. Training would take two to four hours.

Aside from the Police and Fire Departments, city departments do not use applicants’ credit reporting information, Roundtree said after the meeting.

Commissioners Cooper, Marty Shell and Orval Smith voted in favor of Shell’s motion to continue to use the credit reporting information, but only after the commission receives training from the city. Sexton and commissioner Charolette Tidwell voted against.

“I support the training, but I want to make it clear that I am voting against it because I support eliminating the use of the credit reporting information altogether,” Sexton said.

Tidwell had made a motion to instead suspend the use of credit reporting information and table the issue until after the commission receives training and then decide whether it would continue to use the credit reporting information. That motion failed failed with Tidwell and Sexton in favor and Cooper, Shell and Smith opposed.

From The Times Record