Allegheny County Council members voted Tuesday to file a lawsuit against the county administration over a pending contract with a nonprofit to run Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. 

The legislators say council must vote to approve or deny the use of county property, a step the courts and executive branch seemingly ignored in announcing the deal with nonprofit Adelphoi two weeks ago. The legal action will heighten an already simmering conflict in county government over how much power the executive branch wields versus the legislative branch.

Council approved a lawsuit by a 9-4 vote, with two abstentions. Voting against were council members Sam DeMarco, Tom Duerr, Nick Futules and Bob Macey. Suzanne Filiaggi and DeWitt Walton abstained.

The new contract with Adelphoi, viewed by PublicSource, is worth up to $73 million over a term of five years, a sum that doesn’t cover significant construction costs associated with renovating the Shuman site. 

The yearly cost is significantly higher than the approximately $10 million the county spent annually to run the Shuman Center itself before it shut down in 2021.

The Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy Allegheny County)
The Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy Allegheny County)

President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, who called for the reopening of Shuman Center a year ago and announced the Adelphoi contract in a press release Sept. 15, made an unusual appearance at Tuesday’s council meeting to make public comment.

She implored the legislators to vote against the motion to file a lawsuit, saying Shuman’s closure two years ago has had major consequences for youth and public safety.

“The results have been disastrous,” Clark said. She sought to calm fears spurred by the Luzerne County “Kids-for-Cash” scandal, noting that the county’s contract with Adelphoi does not involve payment on a per-child basis. The scandal did not involve Adelphoi, but stoked concerns about privatized juvenile detention.

Councilwoman Bethany Hallam later said that the planned lawsuit is not about the specifics of the Shuman plan, but about the process and council’s authority.

“What this is about is the county executive and the courts conspiring together to attempt to supersede the authority that is given to us as council members under the county charter,” Hallam said.

DeMarco voted against the motion Tuesday, saying that technically the facility would be used by the courts, not a third party, so the plan did not need council approval.

Council members were quick to raise alarm over Adelphoi’s legal troubles after the plan was announced; Council President Pat Catena said the announced contract made him “distraught.” And both candidates to succeed County Executive Rich Fitzgerald this January said they strongly oppose the plan. 

There have been multiple allegations in recent years of Adelphoi employees sexually abusing minors. 

Reached for comment earlier this month, an Adelphoi spokesperson said in an email that the group “is well recognized as a quality organization with exemplary outcomes, and we stand behind our half-century track record of providing complex services in challenging situations with an unceasing eye toward our mission.”

Council’s lawsuit, assuming it goes ahead, will be one of several ongoing between the county’s legislative and executive branches, and it will hit the courthouse as a potentially confrontational and messy budget season gets underway.

Fitzgerald sued council in June, claiming that a newly-passed law setting a pay floor for county workers went beyond council’s authority under the home rule charter. Also this summer, Councilwoman Bethany Hallam filed suit against Fitzgerald and other officials over their non-attendance at Jail Oversight Board meetings. Both lawsuits are pending in the Court of Common Pleas.

Regardless of their outcome, the upcoming budget negotiations could be more contentious than any in recent memory. While in the past the councilors have passed the executive’s proposed budget with few changes, the legislators could seek more control over the process this year with Fitzgerald on his way out. They may even take it upon themselves to introduce their own budget, rather than amending Fitzgerald’s, and present it to him for signature or veto. 

A new administration will be seated in January, the county’s first since 2012. Either Democrat Sara Innamorato or Republican Joe Rockey will take the reins, ending 12 years of Fitzgerald’s style of politics and policy. The outcome of the coming budget fight and the growing assortment of intergovernmental lawsuits could determine how much power the executive branch will wield going forward.

This story has been updated from the original to reflect council’s debate and vote.

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at

Know more than you did before? Support this work with a MATCHED gift!

Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news!

Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.

However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.

Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.

Charlie Wolfson is an enterprise reporter for PublicSource, focusing on local government accountability in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. He is also a Report for America corps member. Charlie aims to...