By Juliet Martinez
Allegheny County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald, has more than a year until his final term ends on December 31, 2023. But the race to replace him has begun with the entrance of Democrat Erin McClelland.
I caught up with Ms. McClelland in September and spoke with her about the focus of her campaign.
“It’s not the sexiest campaign, but I am running on operational integrity,” she said, explaining that since 2015 she has been working for the Department of Human Services tackling some of the county’s biggest workforce problems. Her background is in substance abuse counseling, but she has also run against Republican Steve Rothfus twice without success.
“Civil service issues, turnover problems, lack of transparency, a lot of that really hardcore systemic stuff that starts to deteriorate a workplace,” she said, pointing to the closure of Shuman Juvenile Detention Center last year, the deaths of county jail inmates and staffing shortages at the Department of Children and Families as signs that things are not going well.
“These are absolutely essential services that lift up our most vulnerable populations at some of the weakest moments in their lives,” she said. “It is essential that the systems we have in place support the workforce so the workforce can support our communities.”
She said she will approach supporting the workforce through an evidence-based practice for dealing with what she characterized as a “very abused workforce” where departments only communicate internally, and transparency is nonexistent.
“You go in and you tell every worker, ‘If you are in an unsafe environment, if you are asked to do something illegal or something immoral, if you are being bullied, you are to address it with your supervisor immediately. If they don’t fix it, you are to call me directly,’” she said. The result is open floodgates of information from people who have wanted to call out the problems they see and can now do so without fear of retaliation.
Ms. McClelland said her background in counseling and her years working in process improvement reducing medical error and waste have prepared her to grapple with these challenges.
She has faith that the problems of county workers can be solved if they can first come out into the open, and she is not afraid of the public seeing that things are not perfect.
“I don’t care what it is, let’s disclose it,” she said. “I believe that the people are absolutely fine understanding things go wrong, just be honest with them and fix it.”
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.