An Allegheny County Council member has questioned the racial dimension of the inquiry into the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, noting that the investigators are white and the investigated are black.
Choosing the unusual stage of a county council budget meeting, council member William Robinson, D-Hill District, asked why the county hasn't shown the same interest in investigating racial equality at the beleaguered facility that it has shown in investigating its leadership.
"I don't want us to walk away from the race issue," he said Wednesday. "The people who run the place look like me. And the people who make the decisions about how it should be run look like Mr. McKain."
Mr. Robinson, who is black, was referring to County Manager William McKain, who released a report critical of the Shuman Center management last month. His investigation came after several dozen employees signed a petition last year requesting an inquiry, saying director William "Jack" Simmons had strained relations with staff to the breaking point.
Mr. McKain's findings -- which reported accusations of favoritism in hiring, irregular payroll practices and financial mismanagement -- came amid a state investigation into allegations that a child was punched by a worker in January. The employee was subsequently arrested and fired. Mr. Simmons and deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson both received weeklong suspensions last month.
Mr. Robinson said a number of his constituents have questioned the racial motives behind the investigation into Mr. Simmons. He shied away from drawing any conclusions himself, saying he didn't have enough information.
"If I call Mr. McKain a racist, [the] story will get on the front page and I'll get TV crews calling me tomorrow," he said after the meeting. "I didn't do that."
The Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that focuses on the black community, ran a column Wednesday titled "Is Shuman under attack because of black leadership?" In it, author Louis "Hop" Kendrick says, "I have never read or heard any source quote Jack Simmons' version. Why?"
Mr. Robinson acknowledged the column and expressed many of the same feelings. He also asked Mr. McKain about the petition by Shuman staff, saying he has no way of verifying the complaints' validity if he doesn't know who made them.
At the meeting, Mr. McKain apologized for not keeping the council better informed about the investigation but implored them to read the report before weighing judgment.
In a statement sent after the meeting, Mr. McKain reiterated that methods used in the Shuman investigation were the same as were used in review of the public works department and a leadership change in the Office of Property Assessment.
"This is about our responsibility to provide a safe, clean and appropriate environment for the Shuman residents," he wrote.