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Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board approves bylaws, clashes over designees

The Allegheny County Jail.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA News

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board voted Thursday to establish a new set of bylaws that could bring a sense of order to a previously dysfunctional body.

Previous iterations of the board were unable to agree on simple operating rules, which resulted in conflicting opinions about the board’s hierarchy and its responsibilities.

County Executive Sara Innamorato’s presence on the nine-member board, plus the addition of two new judges and three new citizen members earlier this year, signaled to some a sea change that could allow for new improvements at the long-troubled jail.

But Thursday’s meeting was not without controversy. While most proposed amendments to the bylaws passed without issue, board members clashed over and failed to pass an amendment that would have barred the county executive, controller, and sheriff from sending surrogates to the board’s monthly meetings.

County Council member Bethany Hallam argued that the practice violates the state law that created the board.

“If you can't come, your seat sits empty. If you can come, you participate. The law is very clear and aside from that, it’s good government, it’s good policy,” she said.

The statute requires that the board be comprised of nine members, including the county executive, sheriff, controller, “the president of county council or his designee” (in this case, Hallam), and two judges, “one of whom shall be the president judge, or his designee who shall be a judge.” The final three board members are “citizen members” selected by the executive and confirmed by council.

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The conflict is part of an ongoing dispute on the board. Former County Executive Rich Fitzgerald sent a designee for most of his 12-year tenure; Hallam filed suit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court last year demanding Fitzgerald attend meetings in person. Also named in the suit were County Controller Corey O’Connor and Sheriff Kevin Kraus, who sent designees to meetings in the past.

The fate of that suit is currently unclear. At an argument in March, Judge Katherine Emery asked the parties to resolve the question in the board’s bylaws rather than kicking the question to the courts. Hallam said she plans to file a new lawsuit in light of the board’s vote Thursday.

The amendment failed 4-5, with Hallam and citizen members Rob Perkins, Muhammad Ali Nasir (better known as MAN-E), and Barbara Griffin voting in favor. Innamorato, O’Connor, Kraus, and Common Pleas Court Judges Kelly Bigley and Susan Evashavik DiLucente voted against it.

Innamorato maintained that the state statute gives county officials the flexibility to define the role of the designee and allow them when necessary. She also reiterated her campaign trail promise to attend oversight board meetings.

“Things happen, so we just want to backstop. We want to make sure that doesn't ever impact the work of the board,” she said.

O’Connor argued that the second class county code allows the controller to delegate some responsibilities to designees, including deputy controllers, clerks, and solicitors.

In response to Hallam’s lawsuit, lawyers for O’Connor noted that “Nothing in the Pennsylvania Oversight statute expressly prohibits the Controller from sending a representative to JOB meetings,” and that past controllers sent designees to oversight board meetings with little pushback. (Brad Korinski, the attorney who filed Hallam’s suit, previously attended meetings as former Controller Chelsa Wagner’s designee — an action he said Thursday was “illegal.”)

O’Connor said a vote to ban designees would limit the power of the controller, sheriff and county executive.

“We are the oversight for the county. What we have in code that gives us those powers shouldn't be tampered with,” he added.

Some attendees worried allowing designees could negatively affect both the public and board members’ participation at the meetings.

“It is very clear in our county code that federal and state law supersede any bylaws the board is going to make, even our county law, even our home rule charter,” said Tanisha Long, a community organizer with the Abolitionist Law Center. “Why this is so important to me? Because I like seeing you here, Sarah. I think you do a good job. Corey, I like seeing you here, too. I don't believe that these are positions that need designees because what you do and what you decide on is so important, that getting that information second hand and allowing another person to make those decisions is not really acceptable.”

The board ultimately voted 7-2 in favor of the new bylaws. Hallam and MAN-E dissented.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, acting Warden Shane Dady said Richard Sciubba III’s manner of death had been ruled a suicide. Sciubba was found unresponsive in his cell the morning of Dec. 21, 2023. He left a note that could be perceived as a suicide note. His was the first jail death to be ruled a suicide since May 2020.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at