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Government & Politics

Pugh Defends Book Sales to Medical System

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D).

Amid stubborn questions about why the University of Maryland Medical System purchased a large number of her children’s books, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) defended her actions Thursday, saying she will continue to advocate for children’s health.

Pugh pledged to “keep writing,” despite a controversy over lucrative royalty payments from her “Healthy Holly” series that led her to resign from the UMMS board.

“I am very interested in health and fitness — particularly as it relates to our children,” she said in a statement. “I put a great deal of time and my own money into developing” the “Healthy Holly” series.

As The Baltimore Sun first reported last week, the medical system purchased 100,000 copies of the mayor’s self-published books while she was serving as a member of the UMMS board. That transaction generated $500,000 for her company, Healthy Holly LLC. 

Asked about the transaction last week, Robert A. Chrencik, the system’s CEO, said he couldn’t recall whether UMMS approached Pugh about the books or vice versa.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember,” he told reporters. “We were concerned about one thing — what would be good for the kids in Baltimore City. And these books, if you’ve seen them, are excellent. … So we said we’ll make it happen.”

He conceded that procurement officials did not engage in a “competitive process” prior to purchasing the mayor’s books.

“There’s no other book like it,” he said. “And it was Baltimore-focused. So it was a good thing. It was a win-win for the kids.”

On Thursday, Chrencik was asked by the board to take a “temporary” leave of absence, effective Monday. [See related story.]

Chrencik and UMMS board Chairman Stephen A. Burch were summoned to Annapolis by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) on Wednesday. According to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), another meeting participant, “The governor focused on the mayor.”

The senator said he got no clear answer from Chrencik about who approved the book deal with Pugh.

“The governor wanted to press that issue very strongly. And I asked the question also: Why did it continue? And they said she continued to write more books. … They didn’t tell us who authorized the check, who signed the check and who approved the deal,” Miller said.

Chrencik bristled when a reporter asked about “deals” that Pugh and other board members had with the medical system.

“That is a bad word,” he said, wagging his finger. Chrencik said he prefers the term “business relationships.”

Deals, he said, “implies some kind of misadventure here.”

Pugh’s “business relationship” with the medical system has sparked in-depth probes of her outside endeavors.

She was the first UMMS board member to resign in the wake of arrangements that critics have referred to as “self-dealing.” Two others have stepped down since.

“I plan to keep working to improve the health of children in our city,” Pugh said in her statement, “and I will keep writing – with this experience in mind.”

She said she has “more than enough to do as Mayor.”

Whether her statement will be enough to tamp down the growing controversy remains to be seen, particularly as she could not explain why outside revenues she received while serving in the legislature — as vice chairman of a committee with an outsized role in health matters — were not fully disclosed at the time. 

“I updated my old Senate financial disclosure forms to be transparent upon learning that these transactions were disclosed on one set of forms but not another,” she wrote. “I’m not sure why this oversight occurred, but it has been corrected.”

Pugh said she has returned “the most recent payment” to the medical system. And “like any other small business owner, I’ve reported this revenue on my tax returns.”

She said she “understands how [the controversy] may look to some.”

“Despite all that has happened, I am glad that the important messages in the book reached our city’s children.” 

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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Pugh Defends Book Sales to Medical System