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What Baltimore still needs to know about UMMS' deals with board members, particularly mayor's books

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation from the University of Maryland Medical System Board in the wake of disclosures about her sales of 100,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” books to the system was the right thing to do, but it hardly puts to rest the matter of her dealings with UMMS or the system’s business relationships with its board members generally. Gov. Larry Hogan says he has called a meeting with UMMS officials, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to get more answers. That’s good. Here’s what they need to ask and what the public needs to know:

  • The Sun’s Luke Broadwater reported last week that about a third of UMMS board members had business deals with the system. They range from $100,000 apiece to James A. Soltesz and Wayne L. Gardner Sr. for civil engineering and ambulance services, respectively, to $2.8 million to former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly Jr.’s insurance firm and $4.4 million to M&T Bank, whose senior vice president, August J. Chiasera, serves on the board. System officials have said some of the arrangements were competitively bid, and some were not. Which is which? Did any of these business relationships predate the members’ service on the board, or did they all come after the fact?
  • Mr. Busch, who also serves on the UMMS board but has no contracts with the system, says he and other board members were unaware of the arrangements and had not voted on them. Is he mistaken? Did he miss something? Which if any of these arrangements went before the board for approval and when?
  • A system spokesman has said it had no formal contract with Mayor Pugh for its purchase of books, which occurred in five separate years. Is it standard practice for UMMS to enter into six-figure deals without a written contract? Does it have invoices for the purchases and records of the delivery of the books to schools and day care centers? How about the mayor’s Healthy Holly LLC, which she created in 2011 to oversee sales, printing and distribution of the books?
  • UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik says he cannot recall whether Ms. Pugh approached the system with the idea of selling it copies of her books or whether it was the other way around. Did the distribution of books about exercise and healthy eating fit into the specific, stated goals of some UMMS initiative? What part of the system’s budget did the money come from? Who, if anyone, at UMMS oversaw the distribution of the books? A mayoral representative said Ms. Pugh shipped directly to schools; did UMMS ever have physical possession of the books?
  • City schools officials say they did not ask for the books and did not use them for instruction. They confirmed that some were distributed several years ago, but 8,700 of them are sitting in a warehouse. Did anyone at UMMS ever speak with schools officials to determine whether the system had any interest in the books or capacity to distribute them?
  • There are only 80,600 public school students in Baltimore, and half of them are in middle school and up. If Ms. Pugh’s books indeed were purchased for distribution to city schoolchildren in kindergarten through 3rd grade, as the mayor has said, why did UMMS buy so many copies over so many years?
  • State law limits service on the UMMS board to no more than two consecutive five-year terms. How was Ms. Pugh a member from 2001-2019?

Mr. Hogan has not summoned Mayor Pugh to Wednesday’s meeting, but he (or someone) needs to get some answers from her, too.

  • Does she have records documenting the printing of the books and their delivery, whether to UMMS or to the schools themselves? School officials say they recall receiving the books between 2011 and 2013, but UMMS officials say the purchases occurred in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018. Where are the other books?
  • Last week, Mayor Pugh amended several years of the financial disclosure statements she was required to file during her time as a state senator to reflect income from Healthy Holly LLC. She had, however, reported the income (albeit incorrectly) on some of the financial disclosure forms she filed in her capacity as a UMMS board member. Why the discrepancy?
  • Was UMMS the sole source of income for Healthy Holly LLC? Did any other entities purchase the books?

Mr. Busch says he “cannot recall a scandal of this scale” during his years in elected office, which is saying something given the number of Maryland elected and appointed officials who have been indicted, convicted (or pleaded guilty), sentenced to prison and/or forced to resign in disgrace since he arrived in the House of Delegates in 1987. But it may not be an exaggeration. The “Healthy Holly” sales inevitably raise suspicion in the public’s mind that UMMS was buying a pliant (and particularly influential) board member, that Mayor Pugh was profiting off the prestige of her office, or both. And that’s only the beginning of the questions related to UMMS. This scandal has badly damaged the public’s confidence, and to restore it we need resignations, and we need reforms, but most of all, we need the truth.

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