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Baltimore's development agency chief to step down, the latest departure from Pugh administration

Baltimore Development Corporation CEO William H. Cole IV will leave his post with city government next month. Cole is leaving to join Margrave Strategies, which was founded by former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

Baltimore Development Corp. CEO William H. Cole IV will leave his top post with city government next month — the second high-profile resignation from Mayor Catherine Pugh’s embattled administration in recent days.

Cole, 46, has led Baltimore’s quasi-public economic development agency since then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed him in 2014. He will become a partner in the consulting firm Margrave Strategies, which was founded by former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

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“I’ve devoted my life to making Baltimore and the region better, and I believe that by joining Margrave, we will have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of Marylanders by envisioning the communities and neighborhoods where they will work, live and play,” Cole said in a statement.

The BDC board voted Monday to make Colin Tarbert the agency’s new CEO. Tarbert has been Pugh’s deputy chief of strategic alliances and is a former deputy mayor under Rawlings-Blake. Before taking a leave of absence April 1, Pugh had been planning to recommend Tarbert, officials said, and acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young agreed with the recommendation.

In an interview, Ulman said he and Cole have been in talks about the hiring since December and the move is not related to the scandal surrounding Pugh’s sale of self-published children’s books to entities that have business dealings with the city.

“We both have been very active in government and politics and business, and we started talking about Bill’s desire to continue to make a difference and considering other ways to do that,” Ulman said.

At Margrave, Ulman said Cole will focus on pursuing economic development opportunities around so-called anchor institutions in the Baltimore region.

Ulman’s firm already works on economic development with the University of Maryland College Park, Towson University, Salisbury University and Bowie State University.

“I’m really excited to have a partner that can help us grow our work,” Ulman said.

During his tenure at the BDC, Cole, who was paid an annual salary of $205,000, helped win approval for the 200-plus-acre Port Covington redevelopment project and pushed to expand the Baltimore Convention Center complex and redevelop Pimlico Race Course.

In an interview, Cole said he was excited to pursue a new opportunity in his career but would miss his colleagues at the BDC — who, he said, worked worked tirelessly to get the city’s economy back up and running after 2015’s unrest.

“We have an incredible team of very talented people at BDC who care very deeply about the city,” Cole said. “We’ve been through the recovery after the unrest. We went out on the streets and helped as many businesses as possible reopen as quickly as possible.”

Cole said he was most proud of the BDC’s work helping small businesses through initiatives such as its microloan program, a facade improvement program and the “little things that help our main-street businesses grow and thrive.”

Cole said he told acting Mayor Young that even in the private sector, he would continue to help fight any proposal to move the Preakness to Laurel.

“He and I are very good friends and will remain friends,” Cole said of Young. “I’m certainly not going to walk away from the Pimlico issue.”

Cole is the latest of Pugh’s top lieutenants to announce his resignation since Pugh announced she was taking an indefinite leave of absence to recover from pneumonia.

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James T. Smith, Pugh’s chief of strategic alliances, said last week he’s resigning from City Hall because Young deserves to have his own leadership team.

Smith said he expected Pugh to be on an extended leave due to her illness and the cloud she’s under because of the state prosecutor’s investigation into her business dealings.

“Mayor Pugh is probably going to be on a protracted leave of absence,” Smith said. “Jack has to have a team of people he trusts and he has a relationship with. I thought it was appropriate for me to step down.”

Smith said he’s proud of his legacy at City Hall, including the $52 million Neighborhood Investment Fund that he championed. He said it is about to start awarding grants soon.

“It’s really on the cusp of showing visible results,” Smith said. “There’s so much good stuff happening. It’s heartbreaking we have the circumstances that we have. I’m bullish on Baltimore in spite of the problems.”

Also, last month, Pugh’s top communications consultant said he was stepping down from his job advising the mayor on media strategy.

Greg Tucker, whose one-year, $150,000 contract with the city ended March 31, said he was not seeking to renew the agreement despite an option to do so.

Pugh and the University of Maryland Medical System have been under fire since The Baltimore Sun reported last month that nine of its board members, including Pugh, had deals benefiting their private companies with the hospital network they were tasked with overseeing.

The hospital network paid Pugh $500,000 to produce 100,000 self-published “Healthy Holly” books to send to the Baltimore school system, but the mayor has acknowledged that she didn’t complete thousands of them. School officials have called the books they did receive “unsolicited” and say 8,700 copies are sitting unread in a warehouse.

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Subsequently, health insurer Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities said last week that they also bought roughly 30,000 copies of Pugh’s books, paying her a total of nearly $200,000. Pugh voted in 2017 to approve a $48 million contract for Kaiser Permanente to provide insurance to city employees. Associated Black Charities has a deal with the city to manage a $13 million youth fund.

Columbia businessman J.P. Grant said recently that his company cut a check for $100,000 to Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC in October 2016. He said he received a copy of one book but no documentation of how his money would be used. His Grant Capital Management has financed millions of dollars in deals for state and city agencies in recent years.

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