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Audit: Top manager at Maryland tax department 'improperly’ took leave for months, with $56K in pay

A top manager at a Maryland state agency was paid nearly $56,000 for almost five months of leave last year with no explanation before being terminated, according to an audit released Thursday.

The “senior management employee” at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation was not identified in the audit from the Office of Legislative Audits, which routinely reviews the books and operations of state agencies.

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Under state regulations, employees are only allowed 10 days of the type of leave that the manager was granted, known as “administrative leave.”

The State Department of Assessments and Taxation, which uses the acronyms “DAT” or “SDAT,” handles certain business regulations and assesses the values for properties that are used in determining property taxes. It’s based in Baltimore.

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Auditors discovered that the employee was on paid leave from May 2, 2019, through Sept. 24, 2019, when the person was terminated. During that time, the employee was paid $55,860.

The auditors wrote that they learned the payments were sent to the employee without being approved by the department’s lawyer. Top managers at the department told auditors that documentation of leave is typically included in an employee’s personnel file.

In response to questions from The Baltimore Sun, the department’s legislative director, Jason Davidson, wrote: “We thank the auditors for their review, and have already begun implementing their recommendations. We cannot comment on individual personnel matters, but we can confirm that this employee is no longer with the administration.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the audit.

The auditors said they did not get a full explanation from the employee, writing: “The senior management employee would not provide us with any documentation to support this decision or of the approval received from legal counsel."

The auditors recommended that the department determine whether it’s worthwhile to seek repayment of the excessive leave “that was improperly awarded.”

Auditors also recommended the department put controls in place to ensure such a lengthy administrative leave is not approved in the future, and to ensure that appropriate leave requests are properly documented.

In the department’s response to the audit, it said it “respectfully disagrees” with the findings. The department also wrote that employee leave is outside the jurisdiction of auditors.

“However, the human resources department has pledged to redouble its considerable efforts to ensure that all leave policies continue to be fully enforced and adhered to,” the department wrote.

The auditors were not swayed by the department’s response, noting that the department did not dispute any facts within the audit.

“Personnel matters, including compliance with related state regulations, are within the scope of our audits,” the auditors wrote.

Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, faulted the governor for what she said is another example of inappropriate use of public dollars.

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She referenced Roy McGrath, Hogan’s former chief of staff, who received a payout worth more than $238,000 when he left his prior job at the Maryland Environmental Services. McGrath also racked up large expense reimbursements for extensive travel.

“Earlier this year, we learned Hogan’s chief of staff spent $50,000 in public money on trips to Naples, Miami, Israel, and Las Vegas — now one of his top tax managers decided they could take half a year off on our dime,” Lewis said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, and an insult to hard-working Marylanders.”

The audit was sent Monday to a bipartisan audit committee of state lawmakers and released Thursday to the public.

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