The city of Augusta meter reader arrested last week and charged with selling crack cocaine along his route had been arrested several times for other crimes before he was hired by the city nearly four years ago.
Troy Curry, 46, was hired as a laborer in January 2006, although the city's criminal background check showed he had been convicted in Richmond County Superior Court just 12 months earlier of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to three years in prison. That was not his first conviction and prison sentence. From 1996 to 2005, he was convicted in Richmond County courts and given a total of 15 years in prison for drug-related crimes, not counting sentences from other jurisdictions.
A year after being hired as a laborer, Curry transferred to meter reading for the city. Authorities who arrested him last week and found 8 grams of cocaine and more than $1,600 in his possession said they thought he had been selling drugs from his Augusta Utilities truck for several years.
Augusta officials say hiring him was a mistake but contend it's nearly impossible to find workers for low-level, low-paying jobs who don't have some kind of criminal record. Court rulings make it impossible to exclude someone for just having a record unless there's a "nexus," meaning the crime they were convicted of is directly relevant to the job they're seeking, said Augusta Human Resources Director Rod Powell.
An example of a nexus would be someone who has been convicted of stealing money applying for a city job where he would be handling money. Also, after a certain number of years, criminal records become less of a factor in hiring, Powell said.
Current and former Human Resource and utility managers said they do not know how Curry was able to get the job with his record, especially the meter reader's job.
Former Human Resources Employment Manager Moses McCauley, who requested Curry's criminal background check in 2006, said the information is sent to department directors, who sign off on new hires.
"It wouldn't be my ultimate decision unless his criminal act prevented him from being hired in certain areas like law enforcement," McCauley said.
Former Utilities Director Max Hicks, who approved of Curry's initial hiring Dec. 18, 2006, was surprised to hear of his arrest but said he did not see his criminal record.
"Good grief," he said after hearing about the arrest. "I would sign off on any new hires I had to, but I would depend on others to work out the details. But I guess it was me because the buck stops here although they go through the hiring process."
Hicks said if someone applied for a laborer's job and would be working with a crew, he could understand the hire, despite a criminal record, although he would then have called the section supervisor and told him to watch the new worker.
"But putting him into a truck by himself, that's risky," Hicks said. "We've had trouble with people in trucks who didn't have a criminal record. I think some real consideration should have been given before putting him into a truck."
Assistant Utilities Director Clifford "Drew" Goins, who was interim director after Hicks retired at the end of 2007 until December, approved of Curry's hiring as a meter reader May 30, 2008, but said all he knew was that he was hired as a laborer and transferred to meter reader:
"I don't know what this guy's criminal record was. I'm not privy to that information," Goins said.
On his employment application in 2006, Curry checked "yes" after the questions of whether he had ever been arrested, convicted of or pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor or felony, but wrote that the misdemeanor was a "traffic offense" and "2003" for the felony.
On the application in 2008, he wrote "to be discussed at interview" beside the questions.
Curry is being charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, according to Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles.
His bond on the drug charge is $9,550, but he is up for felony parole violation.
As for Curry's status with the city, Powell said that generally, if an employee is arrested and put in jail, he must still get permission to be "off work" and on leave. If he misses three consecutive days of work and does not call in, his office would process a termination of employment based on "abandonment of position" rules.
"If the crime does not relate to their job requirements, e.g., a misdemeanor offense, we may not take any action. If a felony, we would look at it on a case-by case-basis. If it involved some aspect of their job duties and/or occurred on work time, we would take administrative action to discipline them as appropriate, Powell wrote in an e-mail. "Employees always have the option of resignation at any time, even if they have committed an offense that would cause us to take administrative action against them."