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Franchot condemns consulting firm examining UMMS dealings

Comptroller Peter Franchot. (Bryan P. Sears)

Comptroller Peter Franchot. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot condemned the independent consulting firm tasked with reviewing business dealings between the University of Maryland Medical System and multiple members of its board, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

“This independent commission is independent in name only,” Franchot told Capital News Service Wednesday morning, speaking outside of the Board of Public Works meeting room.

“It should not be relied upon for anything. They just are not set up to get to the bottom of a scandal like this. They’re basically set up to say, ‘Gee, if you changed your board practices in the future, you might not have these scandals.’”

The University of Maryland Medical System hired Nygren Consulting, a California-based business management consultant, to look into the business dealings. Calls to the consulting firm have not been returned.

The system on Wednesday afternoon issued this statement:

“The Medical System Board of Directors selected Nygren Consulting, from 11 firms, because of its national reputation in working with organizations to ensure proper governance, accountability and best practices. … We are confident that Nygren’s review will yield a strong path forward for the organization and we will be sharing those results with the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate President.”

The Baltimore Sun reported in March that Pugh was one of nine board members to have benefited financially from contracts with the system. According to The Sun, the Democratic mayor was paid $500,000 for 100,000 copies of “Healthy Holly,” a children’s book written by Pugh that advocates for healthy living. Pugh also did not disclose sales from the no-bid deal on her General Assembly ethics form while serving as a state senator, The Sun reported.

Pugh announced Monday she was taking a leave of absence, citing a recent bout of pneumonia. Pugh was hospitalized for multiple days last week to be treated for the illness.

“She has been advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health,” the press release read. “At this time, with the Mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor of Baltimore City. To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young will act as ex-officio mayor of Baltimore in Pugh’s absence.

Pugh announced her resignation from the system’s board, on which she had served since 2001, on March 18, writing in a press release, “It has been an honor to have been associated with the important work of the UMMS Board, but the fact is, I have many other pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts.”

The University of Maryland Medical System is a private, non-profit corporation based in Baltimore. It owns and operates 11 hospitals in Maryland. Thirty members make up its board of directors, including House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who has served for the last 16 years.

Franchot also spoke out against what he called “mock outrage” from legislators who have criticized Pugh’s actions but have been “intimately involved” with the system, but would not attach any names to that statement.

Busch introduced an emergency bill, House Bill 1428, that would reform the system’s board, including preventing elected officials from serving on the panel, mandating members disclose potential conflicts of interest and forcing members to reapply for appointment. It is advancing in the House of Delegates.

Busch is away from the assembly for health reasons; a spokeswoman for Busch declined comment.

“It’s like ‘Casablanca’ where they walk into the gambling casino and say, ‘I’m shocked, there’s gambling going on,’” Franchot said. “Where have they been? What have they been doing?”

Franchot applauded Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who called for a state prosecutorial investigation into Pugh’s dealings. While Hogan hasn’t gone so far as to call for her resignation, Franchot, a Democrat, doubled down on his calls for the mayor to resign.

“It seems that one sleazy deal after another appears on a daily basis,” Franchot said. “And unfortunately, we may have just barely pricked the skin of the apple. The state prosecutor is the only entity that can actually get in and tell us what’s at the bottom of all this.”

Pugh also received payment from Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities for her Healthy Holly books. The health provider company and nonprofit organization paid Pugh a total of over $200,000 for roughly 30,000 copies.

“This will go down in history, I believe, as one of the most talked-about political scandals of all time, nationally,” Franchot said.