Pugh resigns from UMMS board of directors days after children’s book deal publicized

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Mayor Catherine Pugh addressed the media on May 16, 2018. Image via Facebook Live.

In the wake of reports that nine of the University of Maryland Medical System’s 30 unpaid board members—including children’s book author Mayor Catherine Pugh—had cut lucrative side deals with the hospital operator, Baltimore’s mayor is stepping down from her honorary post.

Pugh announced this morning that she’d tendered her resignation letter to UMMS board chair Stephen A. Burch–albeit without any allusion to “Healthy Holly” or fresh criticism from the governor and General Assembly leaders.

“It has been an honor to have been associated with the important work of the UMMS Board, but the fact is, I have many other pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts,” she said in a statement. “I have the utmost admiration for the University of Maryland Medical System as one of our City’s and State’s greatest assets and will continue to advocate for its tremendous impact on the health of our region.”

On Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan joined House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller in condemning the business dealings with UMMS.

Busch and Miller both also serve as board members for UMMS, though Miller has delegated his position to state Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery County). Neither was among the group that The Sun exposed had been profiting off of contracts with the organization they served.

“These transactions for personal profit damage the public trust,” Hogan said in a statement. “It is not just unseemly, it is appalling, and I have called for an immediate and full review.”

The Sun reported last Thursday that nine members of the 30-person board have contracts with hospitals under the school’s umbrella worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some were for goods and services like civil engineering and pest control; in Pugh’s case, it was a $500,000 deal for 100,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books, that promote fitness and healthy eating for kids. The hospital system reportedly purchased the books in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018, distributed them at local schools and daycare centers.

Pugh disclosed the deal in 2017 and reported she made a profit of $100,000, but she told The Sun last week that she had erred on her forms, and that it was actually $20,000 in profit a year for five years, after accounting for illustration, printing and distribution costs. She reportedly amended her disclosure forms with the state ethics commission on Friday.

The Sun broke the story last week as Baltimore Sen. Jill Carter’s bill barring UMMS board members from “using the prestige of office for private gain” was due for a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

“Board members are supposed to be motivated by a desire to serve the interests of the patients of Baltimore City and the state,” Carter testified, per Maryland Matters. “Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.”

Carter served as director of the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement in Pugh’s administration for 17 months before stepping down last May, when she was appointed to fill convicted former senator Nat Oaks’ vacant 41st District seat.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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