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As severance news unraveled, Maryland Gov. Hogan’s former chief of staff sought help from the governor

Roy McGrath, Gov. Larry Hogan's former chief of staff and the former director of the Maryland Environmental Service, speaks at a news conference in April in Annapolis.
Roy McGrath, Gov. Larry Hogan's former chief of staff and the former director of the Maryland Environmental Service, speaks at a news conference in April in Annapolis. (Pamela Wood)

Even after he resigned from his job as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s right-hand man, even after a General Assembly committee questioned board members at his former agency who’d given him a six-figure severance, Roy McGrath pushed the governor to support him.

“I’ve been one of your loyalist supporters from the beginning,” McGrath texted his former boss last week, according to messages obtained by the legislative committee. “Never asked for anything, but need your help now, please. This is devastating to my life.”

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McGrath resigned Aug. 17 from his job as chief of staff to the Republican governor, four days after The Baltimore Sun reported he received a severance worth more than $238,000 from his prior job leading the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency.

The Sun subsequently reported that McGrath and other MES executives routinely earned tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses annually, and that McGrath was reimbursed for more than $55,000 worth of expenses in June from MES, just after he’d moved over to Hogan’s office.

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The reports led the General Assembly to launch an investigation, with a second hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Hogan, meanwhile, ordered his budget office to audit MES, and the agency itself is having McGrath’s expenses audited.

At a hearing last week of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight, three members of the MES board of directors who approved the severance payout said they felt misled. McGrath had represented that Hogan had signed off on his request for severance, they said.

That same day, Hogan disavowed any involvement in pushing for McGrath’s severance. He has acknowledged McGrath told him that he had to work out some financial issues before leaving MES to join his State House team.

McGrath seemed upset by that, according to the text messages.

“The statement yesterday is being misinterpreted,” McGrath wrote to Hogan, referring to the governor’s Aug. 25 statement. “Can you please say something about us discussing severance? That it was ok for me to handle with MES. Only what we agreed. Without your support, it looks like I mislead MES. I did not.”

Hogan said Tuesday that he did not respond to McGrath’s message, and instead alerted his chief counsel.

“I immediately called my counsel and said, ’Let me show you this message,’” Hogan said.

McGrath and Hogan’s history dates to at least 1992, when McGrath worked on Hogan’s unsuccessful run for Congress. McGrath also worked on Hogan’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2014 and joined Hogan’s staff in 2015.

Hogan sent McGrath to lead the Maryland Environmental Service at the end of 2016, before bringing him back to help with the coronavirus response this spring. McGrath became chief of staff on June 1.

Hogan pointed Tuesday to an Aug. 20 text that his office has released to the committee. In it, he writes to his prior chief of staff, Matthew Clark, with apparent incredulity about McGrath’s severance.

“I thought MES was outside the state personnel system. They are state employees!” Hogan texted Clark three days after McGrath resigned. “How in the hell do you get a severance for a lateral transfer within state service? How do they pay bonuses based on profits? But also get state pension and leave?!”

The texts were first reported by The Washington Post.

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McGrath has defended the severance and bonuses as appropriate and customary at an agency that he described as operating much like a private business.

But 95% of the environmental service’s revenue comes from local governments and state agencies that hire MES for environmental and public works projects such as operating landfills and sewage plants, dredging waterways and monitoring for environmental contaminants.

The severance, bonuses and expenses have alarmed state lawmakers, who question whether they are appropriate for an agency largely funded by the government.

McGrath charged the agency for extensive travel, to locations as varied as Italy and Israel; Las Vegas, New York City and Phoenix. He also charged numerous hotel stays in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., before morning meetings or early flights. The Maryland Environmental Service is headquartered in Millersville in Anne Arundel County.

McGrath said Tuesday in an email to The Sun that the trips helped facilitate deals to bring business to MES. The trip to Italy in 2017, for example, helped land a deal for an Italian company to open a North American headquarters and two “bio-digestion recycling facilities” in Howard County.

Documents obtained by The Sun in response to public records requests reveal other significant expenditures.

In May, MES employee Matthew Sherring, paid $14,475 with his credit card to reserve a space for McGrath at Harvard University’s “Senior Executive Fellows” Program.

Initially planned to as an in-person course, it was switched to an online format and held from May 31 to June 26. McGrath wrote he participated in the program largely in his off hours “since I was unavailable during the business day.”

“It is a respected public policy program primarily for senior government executives,” McGrath said. “I had applied and committed to the program prior to covid, which caused it to be delayed a number of months.”

McGrath wrote that it was part Sherring’s job to register him and other executives for conferences and training events. Sherring, who was director of operations, no longer works for MES. He has declined interview requests.

Under McGrath’s leadership, MES also spent $25,000 over 2018 and 2019 to sponsor a craft show at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, where until recently McGrath served on the board of trustees. McGrath wrote MES sponsored “many events” throughout the state.

“This particular one was located in the area where MES owns and operates the MidShore II landfill,” he wrote. “It presented a good opportunity for community engagement and elevating awareness of MES as a community stakeholder.”

Craig Fuller, the craft show chair, wrote that sponsors got their brand in front of 3,000 attendees and 250,000 social media contacts. Fuller wrote in an email that the museum reached out to MES “because of the extensive work they do on the Eastern Shore.”

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“We found them interested in supporting our community organization and our social media efforts providing visibility throughout the state,” Fuller wrote.

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McGrath joined the museum’s board of trustees in September 2019. He resigned in June.

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