Recent ousters at Shuman juvenile detention facility portend major changes
July 27, 2013 4:00 AM
Former director William T. "Jack" Simmons, left, and former deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson
By Andrew McGill Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After a rocky state inspection and another allegation of child abuse, county officials have ousted two top administrators at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, closing one controversial chapter at the troubled facility but perhaps opening another.
Director William T. "Jack" Simmons and deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson were both dismissed this week, according to the state Department of Public Welfare. While county administrators declined to discuss the matter, citing personnel privacy, county councilman James Ellenbogen said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald phoned him personally a few days ago to say the end was near.
"They canned them," said Mr. Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, who is chairman of the council's public safety committee. "I'm not surprised. If anything, I'm surprised it happened now and not earlier."
Mr. Simmons has been replaced by William Stickman, a former state corrections official and one-time warden of the Allegheny County Jail, who will serve as Shuman's temporary director until the county hires a permanent replacement. Taking Ms. Drawn-Williamson's seat is Lillian Reese-McGhee, a CPA who has worked in both city and county government.
Mr. Stickman will begin meeting with staff and union representatives next week.
It was an ignominious end for the two administrators, who came to Shuman in 2007 under a banner of reform but soon fell into trouble, culminating in a near revolt among employees last year and a series of child abuse reporting scandals that have put the center's license in jeopardy.
In January, police charged Shuman guard Ronald White with assault, saying he slammed a 16-year-old inmate's head into a door frame. That incident wasn't reported to authorities for several days, prompting state Public Welfare inspectors to knock the facility down to a provisional license and give staff until October to fix problems.
On Friday, Public Welfare officials revealed Shuman also fared poorly in a May 14 inspection, racking up several new violations. That included another charge of failure to report child abuse, with a staff member nearly starting a fight among residents in early May after calling one child a snitch. The incident wasn't reported until the next day.
Public Welfare will be back for another inspection in late August or early September, a spokesperson said.
But storm clouds have been brewing above Mr. Simmons' and Ms. Drawn-Williamson's heads for some time.
Last July, several dozen employees signed a petition imploring county leaders to clean up shop at Shuman, calling Mr. Simmons a mercurial leader and complaining he and his deputy played favorites.
The county listened. Within a year, county manager William McKain released a report blasting Shuman's leadership and recommending sweeping changes, relaying complaints of irregular discipline and faulty financial accounting.
"This is about our responsibility to provide a safe, clean and appropriate environment for the Shuman residents," the county manager wrote.
After the report, both Mr. Simmons and Ms. Drawn-Williamson received one-week suspensions. Mr. Simmons also drew criticism from county leaders for his languid response to state Public Welfare Department concerns, with his "correction plan" mostly consisting of reminding staffers about the rules.
Neither administrator returned calls for comment.
Leadership aside, Shuman is already in the middle of a transition. Built to house 130 residents, it held less than 50 in May following several years of declining population. More children are being treated elsewhere, county officials say; Mr. McKain's report directed facility leadership to consider "right-sizing" the staff and develop ways to make money from unused space. Everyone agrees change is coming.
But the dismissals could jeopardize this, some say.
County Councilman William Robinson, D-Hill District, who knows Mr. Simmons, said a lawsuit is almost certain. He fears the ouster, which was handled privately at first but quickly made headlines, could lead to a public battle between the former director and Mr. Fitzgerald.
"Mr. Simmons has not laid his sword down. I don't see how the chief executive is going to lay his sword down," he said. "That's the danger of giving a person an ultimatum. We need to brace ourselves for a struggle."