Leader Blues

Friday, April 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> Interim director appointed

Leader staff writer

The city of Jacksonville is looking into retroactive background checks on its current employees after parks director George Biggs resigned on Tuesday.

City officials learned that he served prison time for the shooting death of a man in 1990 and had been involved in an extramarital affair, sometimes during work hours, from 2007 to January 2009.

Kristen Griggs has been appointed interim director of parks and recreation until a new hire is made to fill the position. Griggs started working part time for the city in parks and recreation in 2002, left to return to college in 2003, then returned in 2005 to work as a fitness specialist. Since 2007, she has been the department’s assistant program services manager.

“She has been an ideal and loyal employee of parks and recreation for more than six years,” said Jill Ross, director of human resources for the city of Jacksonville.

Besides conducting a search for a new director for its parks and recreation, the city is also looking into what it needs to do to be sure all its employees have been properly screened. According to Ross, she is not sure how consistent background checks on all prospective employees actually were prior to her coming on board in June of 2007. It is difficult to know which employees hired before then were properly screened. Before, checks sometimes were done without printed documentation.

“We’re looking into running background checks on all department heads,” Ross said, and as for the rank and file, “we’re looking into processing those as well.”

According to Ross, only since last May has the city routinely conducted background checks. The city contracts with a screening service to conduct various types of background checks, which tap state and FBI data bases.

An educational background check is ordered for positions requiring a college degree. The names of all prospective employees – part-time, full-time and seasonal workers – are run through the national sex offender registry.

Criminal background checks are conducted for all part- and full-time positions in jobs involving public safety and finances, and extend to the year 1990, the year that Biggs was arrested in Texarkana, Texas, for murder. He was later convicted on the reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and served less than six months of a five-year sentence.

Biggs started working for Jacksonville parks and recreation in 1995 as a fitness specialist and in less than four years was tapped to be the department director. He had a reputation for getting things done and is credited with spearheading creation of the Splash Zone water park, dog park and the disc golf course. He has been active in local civic affairs. His community service roles have included membership on the board of the Jacksonville Senior Center, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville Community Bank, the presidency of the Jacksonville Sertoma Club, vice president of the Jacksonville Hometown Health Coalition and an honorary commander for the 314th Airlift Contracting Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.

His reputation in the community led to his selection last year as the first president of the board of Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, which is to open in August. He also is a member of the governor’s fitness coalition. Prior to coming to Jacksonville, Biggs was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Arkansas Baptist College.