Last summer, the citizens of Maryland learned from The Baltimore Sun’s reporting that the former executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) spent lavishly in his tenure and ultimately negotiated a significant payout when he left to become the governor’s chief of staff that summer. This at a “not-for-profit business unit of the state of Maryland,” according to the MES website.
The spending raised many questions about the organization’s oversight and whether officials were abusing its resources for personal gain rather than in alignment with the organization’s public mission to “provide operational and technical services to protect and enhance the environment for the benefit of the people of Maryland.”
The General Assembly’s Legislative Policy Committee and Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight convened hearings to understand the situation and act in the best interests of all Marylanders. While MES oversight, governance, and accountability attracted attention and concern, the work to find a solution to the problem is not well known — though it should be. We found a viable, bipartisan solution to address the issues highlighted by MES and crafted a legislative solution to best govern the organization. It provides a prime example of the success possible when elected leaders act in concert to serve the greater good of our communities.
After many hours of hearings, legislators developed a series of findings to guide our oversight actions and used the information to craft The Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act (Senate Bill 2/ House Bill 2), which establishes stronger oversight of MES and protects the investment made by Maryland’s taxpayers. We are removing all MES employees from its board and replacing them with Maryland’s State Treasurer and subject matter experts reflective of the geographic diversity of Maryland. We have now set the threshold for MES purchases and will require board approval for purchases above that limit. We have directed MES to address concerns about its diversity and gender discrimination by employing mandatory diversity training for its board members and executive leadership, and by hiring a diversity officer. Going forward, MES open positions must be advertised to ensure greater competition and transparency, and all MES board meetings will be recorded to restore public trust. MES is also required to adopt regulations for its reimbursements to accurately reflect an appropriate time period for submission and board approval. And we now require independent audits of MES and performance reports to the General Assembly’s budget committees for oversight.
The Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act was crafted in full concert with Maryland’s elected leaders. Democratic Del. Marc Korman of Montgomery County and I worked with the governor’s office, MES leadership and former employees, the public, and our colleagues in the legislature to craft bipartisan legislation that ensures the not-for-profit business’ longevity and our trust in it.
Work like this is hard because it requires open minds and listening ears to truly understand the input of diverse perspectives, but it is crucial to ensure trust in our state government. As a result of this work, the bill was approved unanimously by the Maryland Senate and overwhelmingly by the Maryland House of Delegates. I believe that this is how government looks and acts at its best: when we roll up our sleeves and work together for solutions that better Maryland. I look forward to continuing this work and finding more solutions to restore public trust in our government, and to leading in concert with our colleagues across the aisle and finding real solutions to our complex problems.
Sen. Cory V. McCray (firstname.lastname@example.org) represents the 45th District, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.