Mayor Catherine Pugh said today she was not involved in the forced resignation of watchdog investigator, Robert H. Pearre, that took place in the final days of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s tenure.
Pugh was responding to an article in The Brew describing the removal of both Pearre and former City Solicitor George Nilson because they would not halt an investigation of a senior city official – and the subsequent inactivity of the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Since Pugh became mayor, the office, which is charged with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in municipal government, has become almost dormant.
The agency has not issued a single public investigative report. Its Twitter page has been inactive for over a year, and half of its funded positions, including its three top positions, are vacant.
Pearre, the former IG, told The Brew that the office’s inactivity was due to threats by Kimberly Morton, now Pugh’s chief of staff, to fire anyone in the office who attempted to investigate “senior city officials.”
“The instructions to those who remained was just to work low-level, worker-bee cases. Nothing controversial,” Pearre said. The 2005 executive order that established the OIG required it to investigate “all complaints of fraud, waste or abuse of office” involving “any municipal officer, including all heads of City departments.”
Mayor: “Get Your Facts Straight”
Pugh denied that she was involved in Pearre’s firing or that Morton spoke on her behalf when she made the alleged threat at a meeting with OIG staff on September 14, 2016.
“Can you get your facts straight,” the mayor said in a telephone call today. “I didn’t know Kim before I came into office. I never even met her. So for you to make all those accusations – it’s so unfair. I would appreciate an apology.”
She added that “I don’t even know who that is,” referring to Pearre, who said he submitted his name when the Pugh administration publicly advertised the IG position last winter.
Pearre was considered the top candidate for the job by the law department, according to a departmental source, but Pugh vetoed his selection.
Delayed for Mayor’s Comment
The Brew delayed publication of the article for a day while several attempts were made to reach Pugh for comment. The Brew also emailed detailed questions to Morton, who did not respond.
Asked today whether Morton would speak to The Brew, the mayor said, “I don’t think Kim is used to talking to the press. Again, she was not my chief of staff then, so to even make a linkage doesn’t make any sense.”
Pugh said she and then-acting city solicitor David Ralph decided to end last winter’s search for an inspector general to allow Andre Davis, her choice for a new city solicitor, to assume office in September.
Davis has since interviewed two prospects for the job, the mayor said, and the announcement of a new inspector general will be made soon.
Asked if she was worried about the OIG’s lack of productivity since she became mayor, Pugh said, “That is in the past. The office is in the purview of the city solicitor, and I have great confidence in him.”