Saturday, July 11, 2015
Fines, background checks proposed for Bensalem carnival operators
Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Traveling carnival operators should be fined if any of their employees are arrested or cited while they are in town, according to a Bensalem councilman.
At a minimum, Bryan Allen believes that amusement and concession owners should be required to show proof that their employees have current criminal background checks before events are opened to the public.
“They bring people into town and they’re in our stores,” Allen said. “I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old daughter and I live near where that carnival sets up. It’s concerning.”
Back in May, Allen asked the township solicitor to research the possibility of imposing such fines, following the second arrest in two years of a carnival worker at the annual Neshaminy Mall Spring Carnival. He is awaiting an answer.
His latest suggestion — possibly requiring proof of the background checks — was motivated by an article published in this newspaper Monday about how transient workers, such as carnival operators and workers, are not among employees covered under a new state law on background checks, which is designed to protect children from individuals convicted of certain sex, violent and drug crimes.
“If we can’t do it, I want to know why,” Allen added.
Officials with the amusement industry on a state and national level say the background checks of their employees are already a part of operators’ routine employment screenings, as is drug testing.
Charity Johnson and Richard Alan Griffin still got jobs with the carnival at the Neshaminy Mall.
When she was hired, Johnson’s criminal history included multiple forgery convictions, theft and felony drug charges. Under the state’s new law, which goes into effect next month, the drug charges could bar Johnson, of Mountain City, Tennessee, from having direct contact with Pennsylvania children.
During the carnival’s run in 2013, Johnson, then 32, was accused of stealing $155 from the owner of the carnival at the mall and double-charging credit cards of customers buying ride tickets there. She was charged in Bucks County with theft by deception and receiving stolen property but skipped town before her case was heard, police said.
Griffin, 34, of Bryceville, Florida, has a criminal record that dates back 15 years and includes a 2006 conviction for misdemeanor voyeurism in Hillsborough County, Florida, according to a criminal background check. As part of his one-year probation in the case, he was ordered to stay out of Busch Gardens Amusement parks.
Just before the May 7 kickoff of the annual 10-day carnival, he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of invasion of privacy for allegedly using his cellphone to film up the skirt of a shopper at the mall. He’s awaiting a preliminary hearing in the case.
Bensalem Councilman Edward Kisselback Jr. said he would support an ordinance requiring criminal background checks of carnival workers.
“We don’t know who these people are. They come in and loom over our children and deal with our children,” he said. “With that hectic environment, you can turn around, and a child can be gone in a minute.”
Right now, Bensalem requires only that carnival, ride and concession operators obtain a temporary special events permit, according to Matt Takita, director of building and planning and the township’s zoning officer.
The permit application requires proof of a minimum of a $2 million insurance policy and a $10,000 performance bond. Operators also enter into special service agreements with local first responders and must post deposits to have those services available so taxpayers aren’t burdened, Takita said. The township and the Bucks County Board of Health also check plumbing for concession stands, and the fire marshal makes sure electric service and wiring meets code, he added.
Nationwide, only Illinois and Massachusetts mandate background checks for transient workers, such as carnival owners and workers, and bar individuals with certain convictions from working with children. A growing number of state and county fairs, though, are asking carnival owners to provide background checks or make employee names available so local law enforcement can check them.
Under Pennsylvania’s new law, potential employees and some volunteers who have not lived in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years will be subject to more stringent FBI fingerprint criminal background checks, which are nationwide. Other employees and volunteers must undergo state police criminal checks and child abuse clearances if they have direct and routine contact with children.