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House speaker says Gov. Hogan’s new chief of staff should return six-figure severance to Maryland Environmental Service

General Assembly leaders call “shocking” a six-figure severance received by Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, Roy McGrath, as he left the Maryland Environmental Service to direct the governor's team. McGrath is shown speaking at an April news conference in Annapolis.
General Assembly leaders call “shocking” a six-figure severance received by Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, Roy McGrath, as he left the Maryland Environmental Service to direct the governor's team. McGrath is shown speaking at an April news conference in Annapolis. (Pamela Wood)

Gov. Larry Hogan’s new chief of staff should return a six-figure severance package he was given after voluntarily leaving an independent state agency he headed, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said Friday.

“If Mr. [Roy] McGrath intends to remain as Governor Hogan’s Chief of Staff, he should return the money immediately,” Jones said in a statement in response to questions from The Baltimore Sun.

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The Sun reported Thursday that the payout of a year’s salary for McGrath was approved by the Maryland Environmental Service’s board of directors during a private online meeting May 28. The action was noted in meeting minutes posted on the service’s website.

Senate President Bill Ferguson said through a spokesman Friday that keeping or returning the money is “a personal decision Mr. McGrath will have to make.”

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In a joint statement earlier Friday, Ferguson and Jones called the disclosure of McGrath’s severance “truly shocking. This shows a clear lack of judgment to assume the role [of] the closest aide to the governor of the state.”

“Equally troubling, however, is the role that [the Maryland Environmental Service] played in today’s news,” the legislative leaders said.

The governor, a Republican, appointed McGrath to be director of the MES in December 2016, and the Senate confirmed the nomination. The service’s board of directors includes five people appointed by the governor, also subject to Senate confirmation.

Hogan’s office declined to comment on McGrath’s payout, or make McGrath available for an interview. There was no reaction Friday from the governor’s office to the comments of the General Assembly leaders.

Ferguson and Jones, both Democrats, asked the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight “to immediately hold hearings on why this was permitted to occur and who reviewed the severance package; and what constraints should be put in place to prevent this from happening at any quasi-state agencies in the future.”

Democratic Sen. Jill Carter of Baltimore, a member of that committee, called the severance payout “astronomical.” She also said Friday that the “optics are bad” with so many Marylanders struggling during the pandemic.

The Maryland Environmental Service is an independent agency of the state with more than 800 employees. It operates using the money it generates from clients — mainly local governments — without being supported by general state tax dollars. MES also receives federal grant money.

State budget documents show McGrath’s position as director of the agency paid $233,647 a year for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

No one from the agency has explained why McGrath was granted a payout as part of his voluntary departure from the board. Officials from the environmental service did not respond Friday to further requests for comment.

McGrath’s salary as Hogan’s chief of staff is $233,000, according to Susan O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office, which processes the state’s payroll. She said the figure was rounded down to the nearest thousand.

McGrath, whose ties to Hogan go back decades, joined the governor’s staff June 1.

He started in the Hogan administration in January 2015 as a senior adviser and liaison to the Board of Public Works and later that year moved to a position as deputy chief of staff.

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