Allegheny County Council rejects Innamorato’s five picks for Shuman oversight board

Steve Bohnel / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny County Council on Tuesday rejected county Executive Sara Innamorato’s five picks for the county’s Juvenile Detention Board of Advisors, the oversight for the county’s recently reopened juvenile detention facility.

That board, consisting of 10 members, is responsible for oversight of the Highland Detention and Shuman Center, which reopened earlier this month. Council voted 14-1 to reject the appointments, with DeWitt Walton as the lone member in favor of her selections.

Before the vote, Councilwoman Suzanne Filiaggi said in a short speech that she and colleagues could not support the picks because colleagues did not feel like they were properly consulted on Ms. Innamorato’s selections or her administration’s decision to bring back the advisory oversight board.

“From what I understand, it was a complete surprise to my colleagues on council and was given to us up against summer break, thus leaving all of us very little time to review and contemplate the appointments, let alone the structure of the advisory board,” Ms. Filiaggi said.

“An old adage that comes to mind here is that poor planning on the administration’s part does not constitute an emergency on council’s part,” she added.

“With the Shuman juvenile detention center now open, it was a priority for the County Executive to put in place a committee of community leaders and experts to provide input on operations,” Abigail Gardner, Ms. Innamorato’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “An existing State statute grants the authority for the County Executive to appoint such a committee, and we believe we put forward a slate of appointments with excellent credentials for Council’s consideration. Over the last several months, there have been conversations with County Council and their legal representative about reestablishing a strong advisory committee to compliment the oversight already outlined in the contract with Adelphoi. The obvious opportunity for collaboration is through a settlement of the pending litigation, which we remain very open to and willing to consider.”

Ms. Innamorato’s picks for the board were:

• Tiffany E. Sizemore, a county judge. Judge Sizemore, who was first elected in November 2021, currently serves in juvenile court. She told the council’s appointment review committee on June 25 that it’s vital that Shuman has a strong education program so that youth at the facility can be connected to resources that they need.

• Kathi Elliot, CEO of Gwen’s Girls, a local nonprofit aiming to give young girls in Allegheny County opportunities through educational and community-based programs. Her mother, Gwen Elliot, founded the organization. During the council’s appointment review committee, she highlighted her work with other community leaders, publishing work that shows the local over representation of Black and brown youth in the criminal justice system.

• Richard Garland, executive director of Reimagine Reentry, a program for individuals returning home after prison. He also spent time in prison in Philadelphia as a teen and young adult. Mr. Garland told council members recently that it’s important to focus on gun violence prevention and holistic services for youth: “For me, Shuman is a place where a kid is crying out that they need some help.”

• Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation, a charity that works to create equity and educational opportunities for young girls and people with disabilities. Ms. Trautmann said at the June 25 meeting that her organization helped fund a study that interviewed youth formerly housed at Shuman. The report concluded, broadly speaking, that more investment is needed in education and less in punitive systems, where conflict resolution and trauma-informed practices are put into place.

• Mica Williams, senior program manager for TASC’s Center for Health and Justice, a national organization focusing on criminal justice and behavioral health policies. Ms. Williams highlighted her time in the youth foster system and was on her own by 17. Strong adult role models and creative outlets helped to keep her out of the justice system, and must be a key part of improving conditions at Shuman, she said.

The council’s appointment review committee, consisting of all 15 members, sent a “neutral” recommendation last month to council on the picks, in part because of an ongoing lawsuit between former county Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s administration and county courts, and County Council.

That lawsuit, still being litigated, is focused on whether County Council should have had a vote in approving a contract allowing Adelphoi, a nonprofit provider, to run the Shuman facility. The courts and county officials signed a contract without council approval, and a majority of the latter’s members say that violates the county charter.

And alongside the state-established board, Councilwoman Bethany Hallam recently introduced legislation aiming to create a local oversight board with more oversight ability. But that board might run counter to state law, and the county solicitor’s office is reviewing it for potential conflicts.

Along with Ms. Innamorato’s picks, state law also allows the county’s president judge to select three members for the Juvenile Detention Board of Advisors, which do not require council approval. Judge Susan Evashavik DiLucente’s picks are:

• Jennifer S. McCrady, a county judge. She serves in the family division and was first elected in November 2015.

• Edward Mulvey, who serves as a professor of psychiatry emeritus and former director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

• Cheyenne Tyler, executive director of Café Momentum, a nonprofit and restaurant training program with a location in Pittsburgh.

County Controller Corey O’Connor and Ms. Innamorato are also members of the board, although state law allows them to send a designee.