Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board began with a roll call. It did not go smoothly.

After board Chairman Elliot Howsie called out members’ names, board member Bethany Hallam objected to the participation of two of those present — the designees, or proxies, for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Controller Corey O’Connor. She said they’re illegal. Fitzgerald and O’Connor cannot send others to attend in their place, Hallam maintained.

A few hours earlier, she had stood in the portico of the City-County Building Downtown to announce she had filed a lawsuit against Fitzgerald, O’Connor and Allegheny County Sheriff Kevin Kraus over what she contends is their unlawful use of designees. The suit states the three are legally bound to attend the oversight meetings.

That’s the argument Hallam carried into the Gold Room at the Allegheny County Courthouse, where the board meets each month. After the roll call, Howsie, a common pleas judge, declared a quorum was not present, so there would be no voting on this day.

“Point of order, Judge Howsie,” said Hallam, an at-large member of Allegheny County Council. “Why do we not have a quorum?”

Her question was followed by a back-and-forth among Howsie and those seated nearby, including the proxy for Fitzgerald, about what constituted a quorum. Was it five members? Seven?

“Well, I’m just counting six people sitting up here on the board,” Hallam said, “and I’m wondering why that’s not a quorum.”

“I don’t know,” Howsie said. “I thought we needed seven, perhaps?

“You need five members for a quorum,” Hallam responded.

Howsie once again counted those present and declared, “We have a quorum.”

“No, we don’t, because those two on the end are not on the board,” Hallam said, referring to the designees for Fitzgerald and O’Connor.

“Yes, but they’re here, so we have five, we have enough people for a quorum,” Howsie said. “With that being said, we’ll start with community corrections ….”

And he proceeded to call on the first presenter to begin the meeting.

During the news conference announcing her lawsuit, Hallam said that at least 20 people have died in the Allegheny County Jail since April 2020. That death rate is twice the national average, she said.

People are dying in the jail in part because the facility is “horrifically understaffed, horrifically mismanaged,” Hallam stated, and as a result people in jail aren’t getting needed physical and mental health care.

Fitzgerald, she added, “is the one person who exists in this entire world who could snap his fingers and fix the jail tomorrow, stop people from dying tomorrow.”

His lack of attendance at the meetings is “a disgraceful dereliction of duty and demonstrative of Fitzgerald’s deep-seated contempt for everyone who has been harmed or negatively affected by his jail.”

Attorney Brad Korinski, who attended the news conference with Hallam, took aim at board members who he said refuse to “enforce state law and take action” compelling Fitzgerald’s attendance. “That apathy has been depressing and disheartening.”

Hallam and Korinski both expressed confidence in the strength of their legal argument but doubted the suit would compel the county executive’s attendance. Korinski noted he once tried without success to entice Fitzgerald to attend board meetings by offering to donate $10,000 to a charity chosen by the county executive.

Fitzgerald’s spokesperson, Amie Downs, told the Union Progress her boss would have no comment on the suit. 

O’Connor told the Tribune-Review’s Ryan Deto that he’s attended a number of oversight board meetings since becoming controller last year but has sent a designee the past few months because of his wife’s maternity leave.

“I take my job very seriously on the oversight board,” he told Deto. “We’re not taking it lightly.”

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at