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  1. Florida Politics

HOPE activists try to press Tampa mayor to expand 'ban the box' policy

Father John Tapp of Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon leads prayers outside Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office Thursday.
Father John Tapp of Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon leads prayers outside Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office Thursday.
Published May 1, 2015

TAMPA — About 25 clergy members and activists showed up at Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office Thursday to try to force a discussion about their "ban the box" proposal to help those with criminal records apply for jobs.

It didn't happen.

The representatives of the nonprofit Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, or HOPE, said they have tried for a year to persuade City Hall to ban companies selling goods or services to the city from using a question, or box, on their job applications asking whether applicants have a criminal record.

The group signed in at City Hall, but was turned away because it didn't have an appointment. It was not given a future meeting date, co-president Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson said.

The City Council has discussed HOPE's request several times in recent months, and recently decided to ask bidders to indicate what type of criminal screening practices they use. But asking another question only creates more paperwork and does not improve the process, Powell Jackson said.

City Attorney Julia Mandell has met with the group several times, but Powell Jackson said meeting with the mayor, who has the power to affect change, is their top priority.

"They've done what they're going to do, but still, we're committed to sitting down and talking with the mayor," Powell Jackson said. "We want a chance to make a case for the tens of thousands of people in our community who want a fair chance at getting hired."

After multiple attempts to schedule an in-person meeting, Powell Jackson said the group selected a date and gave the mayor two weeks' notice of its intent to come by his office at 11 a.m. Thursday "unless we receive another date and time from you."

They didn't.

Instead, Buckhorn signed an April 23 response saying that the city, as part of its competitive bid process, will "request bidders to inform the city as to whether they also utilize criminal screening practices that similarly 'ban the box.' "

The mayor's letter did not acknowledge the request for an in-person meeting or suggest a different time.

Two years ago, the city stopped requiring applicants to check off a box on its job application if they had a criminal past. Instead, job offers come with the caveat that the applicant must pass a background check that includes a criminal history.

But Buckhorn said requiring those who do business with the city to adopt a similar practice would be "ill-advised."

"I have been advised by City Attorney Julia Mandell that such a requirement would be legally ill-advised," Buckhorn said in his letter to HOPE. "I am told that no other governmental entity in Florida has required bidders or vendors to 'ban the box' in order to do business with that entity."

The group plans to return monthly until it is granted a meeting with the mayor.

"Next time, we'll try to have double this number of people," Powell Jackson told the group gathered outside. "We'll keep coming back, and every time we'll try to increase our numbers so they know we're not going away."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.