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On top of severance, Maryland Environmental Service paid director $55K in expenses as he left to lead Hogan staff

A General Assembly oversight committee will meet Tuesday to review severance and expense payments to Roy McGrath as he stepped down as director of the Maryland Environmental Service to lead Gov. Larry Hogan's staff. McGrath resigned from that job after The Baltimore Sun reported on his six-figure severance.
A General Assembly oversight committee will meet Tuesday to review severance and expense payments to Roy McGrath as he stepped down as director of the Maryland Environmental Service to lead Gov. Larry Hogan's staff. McGrath resigned from that job after The Baltimore Sun reported on his six-figure severance. (Pamela Wood)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s former chief of staff received more than $55,000 in expense reimbursements when he left his job at the Maryland Environmental Service, according to records provided to state lawmakers investigating the agency’s spending practices.

The environmental service and the governor’s office provided hundreds of pages of documents Monday about Roy McGrath, the former MES director and former Hogan chief of staff, to a General Assembly oversight committee in advance of its hearing Tuesday.

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The documents include a list of checks to McGrath totaling $55,888.32 made out in the days after he left MES to take a job with the Republican governor on June 1. They include reimbursements for hotels, airfare, rental cars and meals for several conferences and events.

Many of the expenses are listed without dates, but some date as far back as January 2019. Some of the expenses are for meals with other MES employees and other state government employees.

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McGrath resigned Aug. 17 from his job with the governor, four days after The Baltimore Sun reported the environmental service paid him the equivalent of a year’s salary of $233,647, plus more than $5,000 in tuition reimbursement, when he left the agency to lead Hogan’s team.

While MES is an independent state agency that is not subject to the same personnel rules as other agencies, it operates largely on public tax dollars. Local and state governments provide 95% of the environmental service’s revenue. Governments pay MES to carry out environmental and public works projects, such as operating landfills and sewage plants, dredging waterways and monitoring groundwater for contaminants.

McGrath could not be reached Monday night for comment.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices & State Personnel Oversight, an eight-member bipartisan panel, is expected to quiz Maryland Environmental Service officials Tuesday afternoon about the expenses, as well as severance payouts and bonuses given to executives.

The leaders of the legislative committee, through their spokespersons, declined to comment Monday in advance of the hearing.

The Sun reported Friday that in addition to executive severance, the environmental service has a policy of paying executives annual bonuses of up to 20% of their salary.

McGrath and MES have defended the payments as standard practice at an agency that operates much like a private business.

But lawmakers have questioned whether it’s appropriate for a public agency to dispense such generous bonuses and severance payouts. House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said McGrath should return the money.

Committee members are scheduled to hear from the current MES director and members of the MES board that approved McGrath’s severance. McGrath is not on the witness list, and he has not answered questions from The Sun about whether he will testify.

Several officials within the Maryland Environmental Service raised questions this summer about McGrath’s payouts.

Former Deputy Director Beth Wojton sent an email to board members July 22, shortly before she retired, about the expenses. She had stepped in as acting director after McGrath’s departure.

Wojton wrote that “during the short period where I had assumed the duties of the Director, MES reimbursed the previous Director for approximately $50,000 in expenses. These expenses were not submitted to me nor did I authorize payment. My intent was to establish policies and guidelines pertaining to the approval process for the Director’s expenses at the June Board meeting, which I ultimately didn’t attend.”

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She did not explain in her letter why she wasn’t at the meeting.

Board member Joseph Snee, an attorney from Harford County, sent messages Aug. 6 urging the board to meet “to review the issues of the former Director’s expense account, reimbursements for the same, the location of the former Director’s MES vehicle, how it is titled, home office, server, etc.”

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to MES and the State of Maryland,” Snee wrote.

Two days after Wojton’s email, McGrath sent a series of text messages to board members, calling the letter “nonsense” and setting up phone calls to “clear it up.” To one board member, McGrath wrote: “I just heard about the letter. Disappointing to say the least. Wanted to discuss.”

Wojton declined to comment on her concerns, but wrote in a text message: “MES is a wonderful Agency that accomplishes incredible things. MES employees are exceptional and I was proud and honored to work with them for 32 years.”

A sampling of the expense reports shows that McGrath traveled frequently. Over the years, he was reimbursed for in-state hotel stays in Baltimore, Cambridge, College Park, Cumberland and Ocean City. For part of McGrath’s tenure at the environmental service, he lived in Waldorf. He later moved to Edgewater.

He also charged the agency for rooms in Denver, New York City, Philadelphia and Tucson, Arizona, and for a 2017 trip to Milan, Italy.

In 2018, McGrath was reimbursed for attending “Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence” in Florida. The registration alone was listed as $5,155.

Other expenses included $525.78 on peppermint bark from Williams Sonoma, with the notation “MES board,” in 2017.

Meanwhile, MES has made significant personnel shifts over the past few days that have not been publicly announced.

The service’s director of operations, Matthew Sherring, no longer works at MES as of Thursday, MES spokesman Dan Faoro confirmed Monday.

“As this is a personnel matter, I cannot comment further,” he said.

Sherring declined to comment.

And, Faoro also confirmed, two members of the nine-person board of directors have been removed: Dr. Richard Streett Jr., a Harford County veterinarian who was the board secretary, and Michael Harris, the top MES financial official who served as board treasurer. Harris is still listed as an MES employee on the agency’s website.

The director of MES chairs the board of directors and appoints three members: the deputy director, secretary and treasurer. The other five positions are appointed by the governor, with confirmation by the state Senate.

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