Audit Faults State Agency for Personnel Law Violation

    Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Joint Audit and Evaluation Committee. File photo.

    A former high-ranking state employee was awarded five months administrative leave worth nearly $56,000, in apparent violation of state personnel law, a legislative audit found. Efforts to determine why the leave was granted were rebuffed by top agency managers.

    The unidentified “senior management employee” worked at the Department of Assessments and Taxation (DAT).

    According to the Office of Legislative Audits (OLA), the employee received $55,860 in leave “without any documentation.”

    “The administrative leave granted was also in excess of the 10-day limit on administrative leave allowed by State regulations,” the report noted. 

    A leading legislator said the payout called the quality of the agency’s managerial oversight into question. 

    DAT is responsible for administering Maryland’s real and personal property tax laws, including the property tax credits that homeowners and renters receive. It also administers certain corporate functions. 

    The Office of Legislative Audits’ four-year review of the agency was submitted to the General Assembly’s Joint Audit and Evaluation Committee this week.

    Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), one of the panel’s co-chairs, said the unexplained decision to award five months leave to a senior manager “opens the question of the qualifications of individuals that are being brought on, the oversight of their responsibilities, and making sure there’s accountability to what they’re actually doing.” 

    “Clearly, here it seems like the ball was dropped for a while,” he added. 

    The disclosure of the five months paid leave comes as legislators probe the controversial decision of the Maryland Environmental Service to give a year’s severance and expense reimbursement to Roy McGrath, the former CEO of the quasi-governmental agency. He left MES in May to become chief of staff to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). McGrath was granted nearly $300,000 in severance and various reimbursements. 

    The hiring of longtime Hogan political operative Steve Crim to a $154,000 job at the state Department and Budget earlier this year also raised eyebrows among lawmakers with oversight over state government personnel decisions. 

    Most of the auditors’ findings and recommendations dealt with DAT’s core functions — making sure that properties were valued correctly and that tax credits were applied properly. 

    In a statement, DAT spokesman Jason Davidson said: “We thank the auditors for their review, and have already begun implementing their recommendations. We cannot comment on individual personnel matters, but we can confirm that this employee is no longer with the administration.”

    According to OLA, the manager was awarded leave for every pay period from May 2, 2019 thru the employee’s termination on Sept. 24, 2019. 

    In their report, auditors said their efforts to learn more about the decision to grant the unusual leave were thwarted. 

    “We were advised by DAT management personnel that the decision was made by other senior DAT management without documented approval of legal counsel,” they wrote. 

    “The senior management employee would not provide us with an explanation claiming executive privilege and DAT could not provide us with any documentation to support this decision or of the approvals received from legal counsel.”

    Agency managers told auditors “that when administrative leave is granted to an employee, supporting documentation is normally included in the employee’s personnel file.”

    As part of its formal process for recommending policy corrections to address its findings, OLA recommended that DAT stay “within the 10-day limit allowed by State regulations” and that leave be “adequately documented.” 

    In the case of the nearly $56,000 granted to the unidentified manager, OLA recommended consulting with counsel “to determine the feasibility of recovering the aforementioned administrative leave that was improperly awarded.”

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.