A General Assembly committee with the power to subpoena witnesses has scheduled a special meeting next week, as lawmakers say they still have questions about a six-figure payout made to the governor’s former chief of staff.
The Legislative Policy Committee, a bipartisan panel co-chaired by the Senate president and the speaker of the House of Delegates, can issue subpoenas or delegate subpoena authority to others. The committee, which typically only meets once a year to approve the General Assembly’s budget, will meet Wednesday afternoon.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said in a statement that “strong questions persist” about Gov. Larry Hogan’s former chief of staff, Roy McGrath, who resigned in August after The Baltimore Sun reported that he received a payout worth more than $238,000 from his prior job leading the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency.
Lawmakers are concerned about the propriety of such a generous payout — which was described by McGrath and others as “severance” — being given out for a voluntary departure from an agency that gets 95% of its funding from local governments and state agencies. Government agencies hire the environmental service and its 800-plus employees for work such as operating landfills and sewage plants.
Lawmakers also are probing McGrath’s travel and business expenses. The Sun reported that just after he left the environmental service, McGrath was reimbursed more than $55,000 for his expenses, which included dozens of trips to meetings and conferences, as well as numerous meals, including with other MES and state employees.
The agency paid for his graduate school tuition and for an online training course from Harvard University that cost more than $14,000.
“As long as there are unanswered questions about taxpayer-funded reimbursements, we must continue to ask the hard questions,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.
“The legislature has a duty to all Marylanders to investigate this issue and produce answers,” said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.
A General Assembly joint committee that conducts oversight of state employees has held multiple hearings, grilling MES board members, the current director and the former deputy director. That committee does not have the authority to issue subpoenas unless authorized by the Legislative Policy Committee.
Those hearings have led lawmakers to question how much the Republican governor knew about McGrath’s quest for the severance payment. Hogan has said he was not involved, but acknowledged that when he asked McGrath to become his chief of staff, McGrath said he had to work out financial issues with MES.
MES board members who approved the payment to McGrath testified that they were led to believe Hogan had endorsed the payout.
McGrath has not agreed to testify before the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight. He’s now represented by Greenbelt-based attorney Bruce Marcus, who has represented politicians and government officials on both sides of the aisle — most notably, former Republican Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who was sent to jail on a conviction of misconduct in office.
Marcus wrote in a letter to lawmakers on Aug. 31: ″There are a number of issues that will require resolution before we are able to counsel and advise Mr. McGrath regarding the Joint Committee’s overture.”
Marcus did not explain in the letter what those issues are.
He declined to comment on Wednesday and McGrath did not respond to a request for comment.
The General Assembly’s Legislative Policy Committee is comprised of top leaders from both parties in the legislature. It oversees the work of the assembly’s standing committees and has the authority to hold hearings, issue subpoenas and propose legislation on any subject.
Jones and Ferguson have assigned Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore and Del. Marc Korman of Montgomery County, both Democrats, to draft legislation “to reform the board and operations of MES.”
If the General Assembly issues subpoenas to McGrath or others, it would be the first time in nearly 15 years that it’s used subpoena powers.
The last time that the General Assembly issued subpoenas also involved Hogan. Hogan served as appointments secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. from 2003 through 2007, when that administration was accused of orchestrating the firing of long-serving employees throughout state government and replacing them with Republican loyalists.
Ehrlich, at the time, was the first Republican governor in Maryland in more than 30 years, and he was accused of going too far in putting his stamp on the state workforce.
An employee, Joseph F. Steffen Jr., admitted to going from agency to agency — adopting the nickname “prince of darkness” and putting a grim reaper statue on his desk — and finding employees to fire.
Hogan said at the time that the administration replaced only 4% of the 7,000-plus at-will employees who could legally be fired without cause.
“Not a single person can ever say, ‘I was fired because I’m a Democrat,’” Hogan told lawmakers.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.