By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
The burgeoning controversy over a children’s book written by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has triggered her resignation from the University of Maryland Medical System’s (UMMS) board of directors, as well as that of two others and raised questions regarding transparency and ethics.
Earlier this week, Pugh resigned from the UMMS board after questions arose regarding the mayor’s $500,000 Healthy Holly children’s book deal with UMMS.
Mayor Pugh provided an exclusive statement to the AFRO in response to the allegations swirling connected to her book deal controversy.
“As you know, I am very interested in health and fitness, particularly as it relates to children. You may not know that I have been a publisher since 1979 and an author for 25 years,” stated Pugh. “I started working on the Healthy Holly concept more than a decade ago after attending a conference on childhood health and obesity, and, for several years I put a great deal of time and my own money into developing it. It was a project I was passionate about and I was excited for the opportunity to expand its reach,” Pugh added.
“Despite all of this, I am glad the important messages in the book reached our city’s children. I never thought this would lead to today, and I understand how it may look to some, but here is what I have done to address this matter,” Pugh said before outlining the following actions she said she has taken. Chiefly, her resigning from the UMMS Board and updated her old Senate financial disclosure forms, which she says she recently learned “…that these transactions were disclosed on one set of forms, but not another. I’m not sure why this oversight occurred, but it has been corrected.”
Pugh also told the AFRO she has returned the most recent payment and reported the revenue on tax returns. “I plan to keep working to improve the health of children in our city and I will keep writing with this experience in mind,” she stated.
Subsequently, according to multiple reports two more members of the UMMS board, John Dillon and Robert Pevenstein resigned on March 19. According to Luke Broadwater, who broke the story for the Baltimore Sun, eight other members of the UMMS board have lucrative deals with the medical system. Four of those board members, August J. Chiasera, Francis X. Kelly, James A. Soltesz and Walter A. Tilley, Jr., have been asked to take a leave of absence by board chair Stephen A. Burch. Burch released the following statement on March 19:
“As chairman of the board of directors for the University of Maryland System (UMMS), I take very seriously the concerns raised regarding board members that have business relationships with UMMS. Addressing this issue is of the highest priority for me and the organization. There is nothing more important that the trust of those who depend on our leadership…Let me be abundantly clear, this is not a reflection on any of the affected board members or their businesses. Our board members are incredibly talented professionals who bring invaluable expertise and perspective while advancing Maryland’s own world-class healthcare system.”
According to The Sun report, Chiasera of M&T Bank ($7.4 million in revenues for the bank from UMMS), and former state Sen. Kelley ($4.4 million in revenues for his insurance company), are the biggest beneficiaries of their membership on the UMMS board.