Ex officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young regularly uses a few metaphors involving steering large vehicles when questioned about how long his ride at Baltimore’s helm will last.
When asked about when he expects Mayor Catherine Pugh to return, he pivots to an analogy of ship, train or steady hand to explain he’s focused on the day-to-day city operations.
“We’re not skipping a beat. We’re moving forward. I’m focused on cleaning the city, and I’m focusing on making sure we are reducing crime,” Young said. “I’ve been riding around looking in alleys and everywhere else seeing (trash) and calling in, and saying, ‘I want it cleaned up,’ and it’s been cleaned up.”
This week Young came as close as he’s dared, at least publicly, to saying Pugh, on medical leave amid an ethics controversy, shouldn’t return. He was quoted as saying he’d hate it if the mayor returned to the job she left on April 2. On Wednesday he tried to clarify that statement.
“What I was saying was I would hate to see what, you know, what the response would be. That’s what I meant,” Young said during a regularly scheduled news conference at City Hall.
The acting mayor went onto explain that with state lawmakers, City Council members and the Greater Baltimore Committee calling for the mayor to resign he wouldn’t want to see Pugh come back as mayor in the face of such a negative public response.
“It would be devastating for her and I wouldn’t want to see her feelings hurt. … That’s tough. I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
In the days after Pugh left office members of her staff and confidants insisted the mayor, 69, would resume her duties when she was well enough. As her absence grows longer, now more than three weeks, doubts about her return are growing.
Staff and others at City Hall said they have not heard from Pugh recently. Young told reporters he hasn’t spoken with Pugh in two weeks.
Young confirmed Wednesday that he signed termination letters on Monday to end the employment of three of Pugh’s aides — Gary Brown Jr., Afra White and Poetri Deal.
“We can’t speak to personnel decisions, but I can tell you that I made the decision of three people who will no longer be in the mayor’s office. They’re at-will employees, and as I continue to assess City Hall I’ll do what’s appropriate to make sure that I have the right people in place that I feel comfortable with,” Young said.
Brown, White and Deal were the first of seven City Hall employees placed on leave when Young took over as ex officio mayor on April 2. The three were placed on paid leave after the Baltimore Business Journal reported they served on the board of a nonprofit, the Maryland Center for Adult Training, where Pugh serves as chairwoman. The address of the nonprofit is the same used in papers incorporating Health Holly LLC, which is the name of Pugh’s children’s book series.
Young said there’s been no decision regarding the other employees on paid leave whose absence from City Hall has not been linked to the mayor’s ethics scandal.
Another four city employees, including Bruce Williams, Pugh’s chief of staff, and Karen Stokes, the city’s lobbyist, remain on paid leave. Young said there has been no decision regarding their status.
Despite the fact he’s letting employees go and as Pugh’s leave continues on, Young insisted the decision of whether to come back is up to the mayor.
The City Charter doesn’t allow for the mayor to be removed. Maryland’s constitution doesn’t provide a way to force a mayor from office until found guilty of felonies or certain misdemeanors.
City Solicitor Andre Davis reiterated the city charter provides “zero” paths to removing the mayor. As the city’s attorney, he said, he will consult with city leadership to “think about what options there are” to potentially remedy the situation, but the charter provides no direction.
“As far as the charter itself is concerned the charter is utterly silent on how long a leave can last, exactly what the reasons are for a leave — there’s just nothing in the charter to address this,” Davis said.