The co-chairmen of a legislative oversight committee on state personnel matters said Saturday that they plan to investigate a six-figure payment that former Maryland Environmental Service director Roy McGrath received when he left the agency in the spring to become Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s chief of staff.
“The quarter million-dollar, taxpayer-funded ‘severance payment’ to Maryland Environmental Services’ former executive director raises serious questions about the judgment of its Board of Directors and its gubernatorially appointed members,” Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) and Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s) said in a statement. The two lawmakers are co-chairmen of the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight.
“MES’s Board of Directors is controlled by the Governor and several board members reported to Mr. Roy McGrath when he was the MES executive director and board chair. This arrangement raises potential conflicts of interest, particularly when the severance package is designated for the Governor’s incoming chief-of-staff.”
Without laying out a timetable, the lawmakers said their panel “will examine the decisions and policies that enabled this severance payment to occur and to ensure that there is proper accountability and transparency in the expenditures of state and local funds by this agency.”
The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the Maryland Environmental Service, a quasi-governmental agency that is hired to manage public works and infrastructure projects, paid McGrath a “severance package” equal to his annual salary — $233,647 — plus tuition reimbursements and office equipment, when he left to become Hogan’s top staffer. The newspaper could not get anyone connected to the agency or the Hogan administration to explain the payment.
In a joint statement on Friday morning, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) called the Sun report “truly shocking.”
McGrath has long been a part of Hogan’s political orbit. In his recently-published autobiography, the governor saluted McGrath, who is considered an expert in procurement policy, for his role in helping the administration secure COVID-19 test kits from a South Korean company.
While the governor’s office has not formally weighed in on the news about the payment to McGrath, Hogan’s chief of staff began pushing back on social media late Friday night.
“We’ll put the other facts out soon enough, but I say thanks to my friends who didn’t jump on the fact-less bandwagon today,” McGrath wrote on his personal Facebook page. “I remain focused on my public service job and will not be drawn into the distraction of other’s toxic, partisan politics.”
He characterized the Sun report as a “rush-to-judgement news story.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Maryland Environmental Service issued a statement defending the payment.
“Severance packages are customary for both MES Directors and Acting Directors and is a common practice,” the agency wrote, saying that in contrast to state agencies, it receives no direct taxpayer subsidies and as such has “a private sector like pay structure.”
The agency statement went on to tout McGrath’s performance as director and noted that his predecessor, Jim Harkins (a former Republican legislator and one-time Harford County executive) received a bigger payout when he left MES.
“MES is grateful for the tremendous leadership provided by Mr. McGrath, and wish to reiterate that we view this payment as compensation for exceptional growth during his tenure,” Charles Glass, McGrath’s successor, says in the statement.
Glass concluded: “We welcome a full review of our policies, procedures, and operations, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to reaffirm that we are open and transparent in every manner.”