Not admissible in court, test probably not deterrent for someone intent on stealing

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s comments that he wants to require polygraph tests as a condition of employment for all city employees (or potential city employees) who handle money may be going a bit too far.

The mayor’s concerns are grounded in recent allegations of mishandled funds in the city’s court services department, which collects the fines for traffic tickets and other misdemeanor offenses. He has declined to discuss the apparent problem, but has appointed a committee to audit the department’s books, examine its operations and develop recommendations to make it better.

Monday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen hired local CPA Donna Ingram to audit the department and also make recommendation to improve operations.

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We applaud both actions. If funds have in fact been mishandled, then the problem needs to be corrected and any employee involved needs to be disciplined. And there is always room for improvement in any department.

But requiring someone to take a polygraph test as a condition of employment is another thing.

“It’s going to be required as a condition of employment as soon as we can get it worked out,” Flaggs said Monday. “We don’t have an internal audit system. The taxpayers need to know we’re not losing their money. It’s like a drug test. You do a random polygraph. I think that banks require it some.”

We can understand requiring present employees who handle city funds to undergo a polygraph test if there is a suspected loss of money. But requiring potential new hires to take one as part of the application process is a Pandora’s box the city may not want.

Polygraph test results are not allowed as evidence in trials because they are unreliable. And the one question, “Have you ever stolen anything” can cause problems for some people, and all it would take is a crisis of conscience for the city to lose an otherwise potentially good employee.

If the mayor and aldermen really want to protect the public’s money, they should scrap the polygraph idea, except in extreme cases and look taking steps to install the internal audit controls the mayor says are missing.

That would seem the better, and in the long run the more practical, solution than the risk of losing a good employee or potential good employee because they feel their integrity is questioned.