Allegheny County hires consultant to handle troubled Shuman Center

'We really have to sit back and come up strategically with what's the future of Shuman.'

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Allegheny County has hired a consultant to survey Shuman Juvenile Detention Center employees on how they feel about their workplace -- and if recent reports are any indication, the reviews won't be rosy.

Sheila Washington, a consultant with Pittsburgh nonprofit Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise, will help form an employee relations committee to examine working conditions, county manager William McKain said Wednesday.

Over the next year, he hopes she'll help heal relations between facility workers -- many of whom signed a petition last year begging the county to step in -- and Shuman's new leaders, who were put in charge.

"We really have to sit back and come up strategically with what's the future of Shuman," Mr. McKain said.

Ms. Washington, who will be paid $10,000, is set to meet with Shuman's leadership on Friday.

What will she encounter? A beleaguered facility whose two head administrators -- director William "Jack" Simmons and deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson -- were dismissed last month; a license with the Department of Public Welfare that has been put on probation by regulators; and a restive employee union that has already filed several lawsuits and labor disputes.

Just ask Al Smith, Shuman's SEIU union representative, who helped author the original petition sent to county leaders. He said employees kept their mouths shut for too long out of fear of reprisal from Mr. Simmons.

"Hopefully this will be an avenue for folks to see they can trust the county," Mr. Smith said. "We need to sit down with the new director and figure out collectively how this goes forward."

But some say the county has stumbled on some decisions.

Wednesday, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner released an audit deploring the facility's financial accounting, singling out a pair of accounts to benefit residents managed by the Rev. Floyd Palmer, Shuman's part-time chaplain.

The county has moved to shut down the accounts and consolidate them under the administration's control.

Bad idea, said Rev. Palmer, who managed the funds for a decade. He fears the inevitable red tape involved in requisitioning money from Grant Street will keep kids from getting help.

And he doesn't appreciate showing up in county reports as a "problem," when he says he was just trying to do good.

"I really had the kids at heart," he said. "I try to live my life so I can be trusted. And a good name is hard to have. Somebody else is trying to tear it down."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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