By Nick Keppler
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
UPDATE: Despite a negative committee recommendation Allegheny County Council voted to reappoint M. Gayle Moss to the county Jail Oversight Board despite not attending a meeting in four years
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When Allegheny County Council convenes via conference call tonight, members will vote on County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s reappointment of M. Gayle Moss to the Jail Oversight Board. Such reappointments usually sail through the council. But a coalition of community groups and some council members are objecting to Moss keeping the seat she’s held since 2013 for one simple reason: She has not attended a meeting of the board in more than four years.
A review of meeting minutes shows that Moss, former president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP, last attended a meeting of the board overseeing the Allegheny County Jail in October of 2015.
“It shows a lack of interest in the process,” said Fawn Walker-Montgomery, co-founder and executive director of Take Action Mon Valley. “With everything that’s going on in the jail, especially now, you could see why we want a person keeps up with it.” The jail is modifying day-to-day operations and facing calls to release some inmates to diminish the spread of COVID-19.
Walker-Montgomery’s super-group, Policing in Allegheny County Coalition, which also includes 1 Hood Media and the Alliance of Police Accountability, is calling on the council to reject Moss’ re-nomination because of her years of no-shows.
“Why do you even want to be reappointed?” Walker-Montgomery added.
Moss did not respond to an interview request sent through her Facebook account. Fitzgerald also did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
In a letter to Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, head of the council’s Appointment Review Committee, Moss gave reasons for her absences. “I apologize for not being able to attend many of the meetings during two of the terms because of a work schedule conflict,” she wrote. “However, I was informed of what was happening and kept up to date.” She also blamed a knee surgery that “resulted in [her] continued inability to attend meetings.”
However, Moss regularly attended meetings for another county advisory board, the Minority Business Enterprise Advisory Committee, in that time.
The Appointment Review Committee, a “committee of the whole” for which any council member present can vote, voted 6-to-2, with one member abstaining, on a motion to reject Moss’ reappointment. Hallam said that typically means that the appointment is not approved. However, Hallam said several council members informed her that Fitzgerald called and lobbied on behalf of Moss and some were considering changing their minds. Hallam says she can’t imagine why the chief executive would work so hard to get Moss reappointed on what seems like a simple decision.
“We have 1.2 million people in Allegheny County and we are saying this is the only person for this job, someone who doesn’t even show up” exclaimed Hallam. “So many people would be interested in this seat.”
The County Jail Oversight Board “ensures discipline and safekeeping of prisoners and also proper management of the County Jail” and consists of nine members: the county chief executive, the sheriff, controller, three judges and three appointees of the county chief executive, confirmed by the council.
Hallam said that she and several regular attendees of board meetings thought one seat was vacant until checking to see that Moss had been appointed to it in 2013 and again in 2015. Fitzgerald apparently neglected to reappoint her for another two-year term in 2017, but such appointments continue until a new board member is appointed.
This points to a greater problem of poor oversight, said Hallam. “A lot of this responsibility for this is on the county executive,” she said. “Why aren’t you doing due diligence to see that the best people who are on this board?”
Hallam added she didn’t have any issues with Moss’ qualifications but said she showed a disinterest in the jail by keeping the seat while not physically showing up to sit in it. “I would have been cool with [appointing] her again if she had resigned in 2015 when she couldn’t make it to meetings,” Hallam said, “but with this, she showed us she doesn’t care about the board.”