Baltimore Mayor’s $500K Book Deal Draws Intense Criticism

David McFadden, AP, March 26, 2019

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Since 2011, [Baltimore Mayor Catherine] Pugh received $500,000 selling her illustrated books to the University of Maryland Medical System, a $4 billion hospital network that’s one of the largest private employers in the state. Since the arrangement was exposed by The Baltimore Sun earlier this month, she’s stepped down from the volunteer board and returned her most recent payment of $100,000 for the hard-to-find books. She also defended her actions and portrayed press inquiries as a “witch hunt.”

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One-third of the UMMS board members received compensation through the medical system’s arrangements with their businesses, a revelation that Gov. Larry Hogan has called “appalling.” Two other members of the board also resigned, and four others went on voluntary leave while the system reviews governance practices. The president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System has recently been sent on a temporary leave of absence.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said Tuesday that an independent audit is urgent to understand how many “self-dealing” arrangements there have been over the years. In Pugh’s case, there needs to be a thorough examination of whether a product was actually delivered, he said.

“I describe it as juvenile, this arrangement where she was providing or not providing books — no receipts, no contracts, no procurement. It was simply a $500,000 gift to her from the University of Maryland Medical System,” Franchot asserted in a phone interview.

Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh

The slim “Healthy Holly” books, sharing tips on nutrition and exercise, were meant to be distributed to schools and daycares. However, the Sun has reported that 50,000 copies are unaccounted for, leading to widespread speculation that a good chunk were never printed in the first place. In recent days, fewer than 9,000 copies were tracked down collecting dust in a warehouse of Baltimore’s school district, which has described Pugh’s children’s books as “unsolicited” donations. The city library system, daycare programs and booksellers can’t find copies. “Healthy Holly: Exercising is Fun” is unavailable on Amazon, where the only reviews for the book are entries of people savaging Pugh’s ties with UMMS.

In a written statement, Pugh has defended her lucrative book deal with UMMS, saying it started as a passion project.

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Pugh has since cancelled all public appearances and her spokespeople say she was hospitalized over the weekend with pneumonia. {snip}

{snip} The Washington Post’s editorial board asserted the UMMS had a “get-rich-quick program” for many of its board members, with Pugh’s involvement painted as an egregious case of “political sleaze.”

Meanwhile, UMMS and Pugh have not provided clarity on the whereabouts of the 100,000 copies of the “Healthy Holly” series books or definitive proof they were published and distributed. {snip} The medical system had classified the “Healthy Holly” purchases as grants in federal filings.

Some critics say the various statements made by Pugh and others regarding the arrangements with UMMS board members are absurd on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin.

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