County Council delays bill to censure Hallam for ‘vulgar’ remark at Jail Oversight Board
Allegheny County Council voted against taking up a resolution to censure one of its own, Democratic at-large representative Bethany Hallam, Tuesday night. But Hallam’s Republican counterpart, Sam DeMarco, says he will try again to introduce a motion censuring Hallam for remarks she made at a meeting of the Jail Oversight Board last week.
“I am embarrassed by her actions because as the Council President’s appointment to the Jail Oversight Board, Ms. Hallam’s actions reflect on all Members of Council,” DeMarco said in a statement.
Hallam used a crude insult to refer to Common Pleas Judge Elliot Howsie, who chairs the oversight board, during a heated exchange on Jan. 5.
Hallam had asked county jail Warden Orlando Harper about charges recently brought against a county jail corrections officer who allegedly brought contraband into the jail. Harper declined to discuss what he called a “personnel issue” amid an ongoing investigation.
When Hallam pressed for answers, Howsie stopped her line of questioning and attempted to move on. Hallam then muttered the insult under her breath and, when Howsie challenged her on it, she said, “It’s like the nicest word I could say right now, the way you talk to me.”
“Fair enough,” Howsie said. “Hope everyone heard that.”
DeMarco’s censure motion would require Hallam to apologize to Howsie on the record and “Refrain from any such public behavior at all times in the future.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, DeMarco said he wanted to introduce the motion because Hallam’s remarks were “vulgar and foul,” and she had not apologized for them.
But because DeMarco was trying to add the measure to council’s agenda at the last minute, he needed council’s approval to do so. He had the support of fellow Republican Suzanne Filiaggi as well as Democrats Tom Duerr, Nick Futules, Bob Macey and DeWitt Walton — all of whom have been at odds with Hallam in the past. The rest of council opposed the effort, voting it down by 9 votes to 6.
The vote solely concerned whether to put the censure on the agenda, and there was no debate on the contents of the censure itself. DeMarco can still introduce his measure at council’s next meeting, however, and said he will do so.
His effort comes just days after Joanna Doven, who is challenging Hallam for the Democratic at-large council seat, accused Hallam of behaving poorly while in office. That unleashed a storm of online criticism from Hallam supporters who blasted Doven for years-old Twitter posts that, among other things, expressed support for former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and slighted transgender people.
County Council has considered policing members’ conduct before. It considered censuring council member Duerr in April, but council president Pat Catena, who sponsored the measure, withdrew it. Catena voted against censuring Hallam, an ally on council, Tuesday evening.