- Faith & Family
Citing the need to raise the standards for its volunteers at public parks and to increase safety for children that participate in their after school sports programs, the City of Miami Gardens is considering an ordinance that would disqualify any volunteers with two or more felony convictions, regardless of the length of time when the felony was committed.
In the agenda for the January 11th meeting where the ordinance was read and voted on for the first time, it says, “during the summer of 2011, the crimes of homicide and robbery . . . increased by a staggering 33 and 4 percent, respectively. Two of these violent events occurred on City parks. One was a homicide and another a random shooting in which an 11-year-old participant in the football program and two other patrons were shot. In both cases, the crimes were committed amidst numerous spectators, parents, program participants and coaches, none of whom came forward to provide information about these crimes.”
During the meeting Mayor Shirley Gibson said she was in favor of the ordinance, adding that her decision had nothing to do with any individual coach or team.
“I am concerned with the increased gun violence in our community,” she said. “This has led me to think about the standards for our volunteers and the current background screening that we employ. This is not just about football. The parks program represents this entire community and it will groom our business leaders and residents of tomorrow. We need higher standards. When we set standards people don’t like it — when we change standards people don’t like it. But we have a responsibility to the future of this City and to our children.”
Councilman Oliver Gilbert opposes the ordinance and compared the policies of Miami Gardens to that of other neighboring towns.
“A survey was distributed that overlooked cities like Miramar, Miami Beach, Opa-Locka and North Miami Beach,” he said. “For the most part they make their decisions on a case-by-case ruling. Our standards are in no way the most lax in the area. When a person gets out of jail and has served their time, they ought to be able to have the opportunity to be a full participant in our community. These coaches have a tough job but they work with these children six or seven days a week for three or four hours each day. As a policy perspective, this ordinance doesn’t make sense. If someone has not reoffended in 10 years, even the Department of Corrections says they stop paying attention. Let’s not confuse the issue. Are we saying we cannot forgive other Black folk who made mistakes in the past? I am not prepared to accept that.”
Would new bill jeopardize the program’s future?
Councilwoman Felicia Robinson has been a teacher for 17 years. She says she finds it ironic that while ex-felons can be hired in the school system, that the ordinance would eliminate them from volunteering as coaches.
“I don’t condone violence but believe that if one has paid their dues to society, then they should be allowed to give back to their community,” she said. “I used to work in the parks and believe me, it’s not an easy job. These coaches make a difference in our children’s lives. It’s a real family-like atmosphere. We need to really consider how this ordinance would impact our parks program and our children.”
According to data from Miami Gardens, there are 357 volunteers in the parks program. When the council meets again on January 25th for the second reading, 96 individuals could be disqualified from serving as volunteers.
“I think the policy is too stringent,” said Martin Maultsby, 40, who has lived in Miami Gardens for 30 years and served as a coach for 17 years. “I am not an ex-felon but still believe we need rules and must look out for our kids’ safety. Black men are already judged unfairly. Despite their pasts, they are father figures for many boys and they should be given a second chance.”
“I believe in redemption and have even hired ex-felons for my own business,” said Councilman Andre Williams. “But I am not willing to cut corners when it comes to our children.”
By D. Kevin McNeir