In yet another case of déja-vu all over, a Baltimore city official has found herself in hot water for allegedly corrupt practices. This time it’s Mayor Catherine Pugh, who finds herself in ethical, and possibly criminal, danger for allegedly soliciting and accepting $800,000 in “payments” from those she governs for a series of books about “Healthy Holly.”

Ms. Pugh says the purpose of the books is to teach little kids about healthy living, but they’ve mostly just made her wallet fat. Now, she’s on an indefinite leave of absence, along with the CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System (It spent half a million dollars on the books, which were supposed to be distributed to city kids, but largely weren’t); dozens of officials are calling for her resignation; and she’s the subject of multiple investigations.


I suppose it is refreshing that Mayor Pugh’s apparent gambit has not involved corrupt members of an elite police unit shaking down the citizens they are supposed to protect or, like that of another mayor, stealing store vouchers intended for underprivileged children. But that little bit of positivity does not in any way assuage my outrage that my city is involved in yet another corruption scandal.

Of course, my ire might be the result of sour grapes. As someone who would love to make a living off my writing, I am perhaps more than a little jealous that Her Honor hit upon a self-publishing business plan that actually compensates an author for her hard work. All it takes for a writer to hit the big time, it seems, is to write a series of children’s book of dubious literary, educational or grammatical merit and then flog them to her friends. I wish my own family and friends would be so generous.

But then, I have no quo to offer in exchange for any quid that might come my way; all I would have to offer would be my words. Mayor— previously, State Senator — Pugh, had much, much more to offer her buyers, including legislation that favored them.

I’m fed up with corrupt city officials continually bringing shame and ridicule to our city. Talk show host John Oliver got some laughs out of the whole Healthy Holly debacle, and it was embarrassing. Baltimore is the butt of far too many jokes. It is a great city with wonderful people, but we keep being let down by the officials in whom we place our trust, our property and even our lives.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' scandal: a timeline

A timeline of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's "Healthy Holly" scandal.

But there is a silver lining: At least we know about Healthy Holly; other cities have no watchdogs left to uncover corruption. Without The Sun, the Baltimore Brew and the other local media outlets following leads and tracking down facts, we would have no clue that any of this is going on. Local media, particularly print media, is necessary to hold local officials accountable. Yet local newspapers are closing all over the place, and when that happens, the cost of government increases. Bonds become more expensive when the lenders suspect that city officials will take a cut — and taxpayers suffer.

Count your blessings, Baltimore. We have an active local media that takes on corruption. But for how long? As people demand free access to information, more and more news outlets will be forced to shut down, creating more opportunities for grifters to do their thing. Nothing worth having is free, including public accountability.

So here’s the take away in all this: If you really care about your city, subscribe to your local papers.

Deborah Mason is a self-employed tutor; her email is