Baltimore Mayor resigns from board that paid $500K for her books

Over the weekend we talked about the awkward situation Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh of Baltimore has found herself in. On top of all the rest of her duties, the mayor has found time to write (and self-publish) a number of children’s books over the years. This turned out to be a very lucrative side-gig because one of the books sold tens of thousands of copies, netting Pugh more than half a million dollars over the past eight years. Curiously, nearly all of those large numbers of copies were purchased by one customer… the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). And by what I’m sure just had to be a remarkable set of completely unrelated coincidences, Catherine Pugh was not only the mayor of the city where UMMS has a significant presence, but she was on the UMMS Board of Directors as well. Isn’t that just the strangest and most fortunate bit of happenstance imaginable?

Well, the gravy train may be coming to an end. The press got hold of the story and now the Mayor has resigned from the UMMS board. (WaPo)

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has resigned from the board of the University of Maryland Medical System following a controversy involving a deal with the hospital system to buy her children’s books.

Last week, Pugh (D) and others on the health system’s board were criticized by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and top state lawmakers for the financial deals with the hospital system and possible conflicts of interest.

On a financial disclosure form, Pugh listed a $100,000 profit for one year from selling 20,000 copies of her self-published children’s books series “Healthy Holly” to the University of Maryland health system, which runs 13 hospitals including the state’s trauma unit in Baltimore and has connections with the state’s dental and medical schools.

The Governor has publicly shamed Pugh for this arrangement already. And now State Senator Bill Ferguson, also of Baltimore and also a Democrat, has called on the Mayor to go one step further than simply resigning from the board and give back the half million dollars.

But wait… the story gets even stranger and the apparent corruption was running deeper than previously expected. After the Baltimore Sun started digging into the details, it turned out that eight other members of the 30-person UMMS board also had lucrative deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. These range from consulting to pest control, covering any number of different goods and “services.”

UMMS is supposed to be a non-profit operation, serving the public and relying on taxpayer dollars. Membership on the board is unpaid and considered voluntary work to help support the community. And yet a third of the members magically found themselves with lucrative contracts? The idea that eleven hospitals and clinics would need 100,000 copies of the same children’s book is preposterous to begin with. Perhaps some of the businesses operated by those other board members were legitimate (but hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pest control in a few years? Seriously? How big is your cockroach problem?) but they need to be looked at very closely. The state Senate is now considering a law that would ban board members from having private business contracts with UMMS, but that horse has been out of the barn for quite a while now.

Pugh took over the job of Mayor in 2016 from Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had overseen the virtual collapse of the city during the Freddie Gray riots. Rawlings-Blake inherited the job from Sheila Dixon who was forced to resign in 2010 following her conviction for embezzlement. She, in turn, had taken over the job from Martin O’Malley in 2007 when he became governor. He was also apparently the last Mayor of Charm city not to have departed under a cloud of corruption and/or incompetence. Pugh should follow the example set by her predecessors and make a quiet exit after returning the money.