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Schenectady's hiring practices scrutinized after seasonal employee with violent past arrested in shooting

Schenectady's hiring practices scrutinized after seasonal employee with violent past arrested in shooting

Councilman questions hiring convicted felon
Schenectady's hiring practices scrutinized after seasonal employee with violent past arrested in shooting
Schenectady City Hall in April
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

A city worker with a violent criminal history has been terminated.

In the aftermath, some city council members are questioning the city’s hiring practices and how Jason L. Sellie obtained a job with the city’s Waste Collection & Recycling Department despite being a two-time convicted felon.

“How many other people who are violent felons are working for the city of Schenectady?” asked city Councilman Vince Riggi. “[City residents] are paying the bills and have a right to know who’s working for them.”

Sellie, 40, was arrested on July 4 after shooting Wayne Q. Brown.

Police say both men shot each other. Each faces one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both felonies, while Sellie also faces one count of first-degree assault.

Police believe Sellie was the aggressor and Brown fired in defense, which is why the latter doesn’t face an assault charge.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said while high-level employees are screened — including all city police and fire department recruits — the city doesn’t have a universal background check policy.

Sellie, however, did disclose his criminal background in his application, he said.

“You try and give people a chance,” McCarthy said. “People asked to give him a chance and he didn’t live up to it.”

McCarthy said the city is having difficulty hiring for some positions in the waste department, as well as other entry-level slots, resulting in less than “first choice” recruits.

Councilman Leesa Perazzo said she was aware of the department’s challenges.

Hiring can be a double-edged sword, she said. On one hand, it’s important to ensure the city’s hiring protocol ensures a way to cross-check criminal backgrounds even if not disclosed on job applications.

But that scrutiny must be balanced with giving ex-convicts a second chance following their release from prison, she said, and criminal backgrounds may not always be automatic disqualifiers for applicants.

“A lot of people work very hard to turn their lives around and certainly should have the opportunity for gainful employment,” Perazzo said.

She said she was more interested in knowing about Sellie’s employment record with the city.

“If there were behavioral problems or aggression problems in his employment, we would want to know if that was addressed,” she said.

Perazzo didn’t believe all employees should have background checks, just those in key roles. But the city does need a clear policy, she said.

“We should have a policy and we should stick to it,” Perazzo said.

Riggi wondered why the city’s Waste Department is having so much trouble attracting workers.

“To the best of my knowledge, we didn’t have that problem in the past,” Riggi said.

Should all city workers undergo background checks?

“Definitely,” Riggi said.

The renewed focus on the city’s hiring practices comes after several high-profile incidents.

A former city codes officer, Kenneth Tyree, was convicted last year of offering a false instrument for filing after failing to disclose prior felony convictions on his job application. His background was exposed in the aftermath of the 2015 Jay Street fire that left four dead.

And a worker in the Waste Collection & Recycling Department was terminated in July 2017 after officials learned he was registered sex offender when he applied for another city position.

McCarthy pointed out on Wednesday the employee, Matthew Clark, didn’t disclose his criminal background in that incident.

The mayor acknowledged at the time the system was flawed and pledged “dramatic shifts.”

“I haven’t been as successful as I’ve hoped, and this incident shows that,” McCarthy said Wednesday.

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