Roy McGrath, the new chief of staff for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who has been criticized for receiving a year’s salary as severance from his previous state job, resigned Monday.
McGrath became the Republican governor’s chief of staff on June 1 after 3½ years as head of the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency that does environmental and public works projects, primarily for local governments and the state.
The Baltimore Sun reported last week that as part of his voluntary departure from MES, the agency’s board granted McGrath the six-figure payout, including the equivalent of one year’s salary of about $233,000 and a $5,250 tuition reimbursement. The board of directors approved the payout during an online meeting in May that was not open to the public.
Democratic leaders of the state legislature questioned the payout, with one calling it “truly shocking.” An oversight hearing is planned for Aug. 25, with McGrath and the board — its members appointed by the governor and McGrath as the MES executive director — invited to testify.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones also called on McGrath to return the severance money. Statements Monday from Hogan and McGrath made no mention of that, and the governor’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, did not have an answer Monday to the question of whether McGrath would do so.
McGrath is not receiving a severance from the governor’s office, Ricci said.
As recently as Friday, McGrath vowed to stay on the job. He wrote on his Facebook page that night: “I remain focused on my public service job and will not be drawn into the distraction of other’s toxic, partisan politics.”
But McGrath said Monday in his statement, issued by the governor’s office, that he had become a distraction to the governor’s work.
“For me, this entire topic is simply the sad politics of personal destruction, and right now, we cannot afford unnecessary distractions from the critical work the governor and his team are doing,” McGrath said. “For this reason, I have advised the governor that I am exiting state service.”
Hogan had not commented on the situation until he announced McGrath’s departure on Monday. Hogan said in his statement that he accepted McGrath’s resignation “with regret.”
“I have always known Roy to be someone of the highest character, and I wish him well in his future endeavors,” Hogan said.
The two have known each other for years, and McGrath worked on Hogan’s unsuccessful congressional campaign in 1992 and his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2014.
McGrath and the new director of the Maryland Environmental Service, Charles Glass, have defended McGrath’s severance payout as a routine practice at the agency, likening its operations to a business.
That fell flat with legislative leaders, who noted that 95% of the agency’s revenues come from local governments and the state government, which hire MES for projects such as operating sewage plants and landfills. Lawmakers question whether it is appropriate to award a payout for a voluntary departure from an agency largely funded by such public money — especially when government budgets are strained due to the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, called McGrath’s resignation “the right decision.”
“There remain outstanding questions about the payments to Mr. McGrath and how we got here, and we must continue to investigate,” he said.
Jones, the House speaker, agreed.
“Governor Hogan made the right decision,” said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat. “We are public servants who are accountable to the taxpayers — not our own self interest.”
With McGrath’s departure, Hogan’s chief lobbyist, Keiffer Mitchell Jr. will assume the role of acting chief of staff.
Mitchell served as a Democrat on the Baltimore City Council and in the state House before joining Hogan’s administration in 2015. He is well-connected in Annapolis and Baltimore and well-regarded by officials from both parties.
Hogan said of Mitchell: “He has a proven track record for bringing people together and working across the aisle, and I thank him for stepping up to serve at this important time.”
Ferguson and Jones said they and members of the legislature look forward to working with Mitchell.
“Keiffer has spent his career committed to the people of this state and I’m confident he will continue to serve the governor well,” Jones said.
Ferguson called Mitchell “a bipartisan problem-solver.”
The staff shakeup comes at a critical time for the governor and state government.
The state remains under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic and is facing severe financial pressures that could require steep budget cuts. There also is pressure to successfully pull off the November general election amid public health concerns and questions about the capabilities of the U.S. Postal Service.
Maryland Policy & Politics
A chief of staff is typically a right-hand assistant to a political executive, responsible for managing staff and making sure the executive’s priorities are carried out.
When Hogan hired McGrath for the position in May, the governor praised him as “an experienced public and private sector leader with a proven track record of managing at every level of government and a passionate commitment to public service.”
McGrath made a salary of approximately $233,000 as chief of staff, similar to his pay at MES, according to state records. That salary was higher than that of McGrath’s predecessor in Hogan’s office, Matthew A. Clark, who earned $205,000 in 2019, according to records.
This spring, Hogan tapped McGrath to help manage the coronavirus pandemic. In his political memoir, Hogan called McGrath “relentless” as he “directed my team’s emergency procurement efforts during the crisis.”
The Maryland Environmental Service said McGrath helped achieve strong revenues, instituted an employee bonus program and started a diversity and inclusion program.
Before being appointed to lead MES in December 2016, McGrath worked in Hogan’s office as a senior adviser and liaison to the Board of Public Works and later as a deputy chief of staff.
McGrath previously spent 18 years at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. He said in his statement that he planned to return to the private sector.