Re: background checks
From: Chris ScottHanson (
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 11:13:03 -0800 (PST)
Lynn, et al...

As far as I can tell, the background check has, essentially, no positive value. Yes it provides information, but can you use it, and do you want it? The background check is not a black and white threshold as it might seem to the casual observer.

A background check does not show everything, nor does it solve anything. What are you going to do if a potential member does have a criminal history? Are you going to exclude them, even if they have "paid their debt to society?" As I see it the community simply gets alarmed and has more challenges trying to figure out what to do.

The one exception to this "no positive value" view of the background check is pedophilia. Much to my amazement, we had a problem with this once. Many years ago we had a convicted pedophile try to become a member and resident at Trillium Hollow (after serving his jail term.) Compounding the problem, one founding member tried to sponsor his membership, which made things really challenging for the group, many whom had young children, including us.

In the end, one member lead the rest of us to face the issue by saying - NOT IN MY COMMUNITY! and NOT WITH MY CHILDREN LIVING HERE! She, and eventually we, were unwilling to take that risk and eventually, with much debate, asked him to leave. He did. But it took six months and a lot of soul searching. (Talk about a personal growth workshop!)

A good alternative is to ask for references. Call three or more references, meet at least one of them face to face, and ask hard questions.

I had an experienced (and I mean really experienced) landlord once explain to me that he always visually inspected the INSIDE of a prospective tenant's car to see how they kept it. He found this to be the surest sign of a future good renter. I guess he expected his houses to look like they kept the inside of their cars.

ALWAYS, in my opinion - Do a real "clearness process" in the Quaker tradition. Make it real, and serious.

If you are concerned about someone, personally, take it upon yourself to get to really know them. Spend time with them, even if you are not otherwise inclined to do so. Trust your instincts about people. I remember sitting at lunch about 10 years ago with several community members (Windsong), challenging a guy (an associate member) who refused to discuss his family. When asked directly, he would not even acknowledge having siblings, or not having siblings, or where he grew up, or anything. By the end of lunch I personally looked him in the eye and asked him to withdraw from the community. How can you trust someone who can not tell you anything about himself. He voluntarily withdrew.

Chris ScottHanson

On Jan 29, 2006, at 8:52 AM, Lynn Nadeau wrote:

I'm (also) part of a forming EcoVillage, and it has been suggested that as part of the application process for membership in the co- operative, a "background check" be required. The thinking seems to be that this could surface criminal history (abuse or molestation?) that would be cause for concern about having said person as a member. I personally wonder whether it would really be useful. Would it create a false sense of security (as a person could always have done such things and not gotten caught)? Is it illegal, anyway, to discriminate against a person who has served their time for whatever offenses? Would it be reassuring to an applicant, or off- putting? Is the expense in money and "vibe" worth it anyway? Are there other communities which require background checks? If so, what is your experience of it? If you considered it and decided not to, why was that? Has anyone had problems that could have been avoided if there had been a background check?
Lynn Nadeau
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