Allegheny County Council rejects Shuman’s board appointments as lawsuit looms

Allegheny County Council rejects Shuman’s board appointments as lawsuit looms

The Allegheny County Council turned up the heat on the Innamorato administration Tuesday when it rejected all five of the executive’s nominations for an advisory board to oversee the county’s recently reopened juvenile detention center.

The council voted 14-1 to reject Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato’s selection for the juvenile detention advisory board, which is supposed to advise on actions at the Shuman juvenile detention center in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar neighborhood.

The center reopened last week after being closed for several years. In 2021, the state revoked the facility’s license due to a history of violations and investigations. The county entered into a five-year, $73 million contract with Westmoreland County-based nonprofit Adelphoi to run Shuman.

The rejections came amid an ongoing lawsuit filed by the County Council against Innamorato over the Adelphoi contract, alleging that council approval was required.

Councilwoman Suzanne Filiaggi, R-Franklin Park, said the council’s near-unanimous rejection of the applications was because the process seemed rushed and members wanted a more collaborative process with Innamorato.

“My understanding is that this came as a complete surprise to my colleagues on the council and it was given to us before the summer recess, which gave us very little time to consider and think about the appointments, let alone the structure of the advisory board,” she said.

The rejection was bipartisan, with 12 Democrats and two Republicans rejecting the nominations. Councilman DeWitt Walton, D-Hill, voted against rejecting the nominations because he said he had been left out of council discussions on the issue.

The nominees all had extensive experience in the justice system and juvenile detention services. They included Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls; Richard Garland, director of Reimagine Reentry; Tiffany Sizemore, Allegheny County District Court Judge; Kristy Trautmann, director of the FISA Foundation; and Mica Williams, senior program officer of the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities Center for Health and Justice.

Councilwoman Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, D-Plum, leads the council committee reviewing the appointments. She said the committee sent the appointments back without a recommendation because of the ongoing litigation over Shuman and council members’ interest in engaging more with Innamorato’s office on the advisory board’s role.

Abigail Gardner, a spokeswoman for Innamorato, said the administration’s priority is to get a functioning advisory board up and running as quickly as possible, because Shuman is currently open and a state law gives Innamorato the power to appoint members.

She said the candidates had “excellent references” and that working with the council would be easier if a settlement was reached in the ongoing lawsuit.

“Over the past several months, discussions have been held with the County Council and its legal representative regarding the reestablishment of a robust advisory committee to complement the oversight already outlined in the contract with Adelphoi,” Gardner said in a statement. “The clear opportunity for collaboration is through a settlement of the ongoing litigation, which we remain very open and willing to consider.”

Councilman Dan Grzybek, D-Bethel Park, said the council’s objection was primarily about the lack of time to review the candidates.

“The overall process seemed to be a short period of time,” he said after the meeting.

The Council went into summer recess after the meeting and will meet again on August 20.

He said the break would not delay the start of the advisory board too long and should give board members enough time to provide feedback on the board and its potential members.

Ryan Deto is a TribLive reporter covering politics, news and current events in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, he joined TribLive in 2022 after spending more than six years covering Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh City Paper, including as a senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].