Roy C. McGrath testifies at the Joint Committee on Fair Practices & State Personnel Oversight about his severance payout.
Maryland lawmakers were again frustrated with more questions than answers Wednesday, as the governor’s former chief of staff responded to a subpoena requiring him to testify but said little to shed light on a six-figure payout he received from his prior state job.
Members of a General Assembly oversight committee tried for months to get McGrath to answer their questions. While the subpoena compelled his appearance, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at least 170 times. In dozens of other responses, he said he couldn’t recall what legislators wanted to know.
Legislative leaders said it’s clear to them McGrath spent money lavishly and negotiated a significant payout despite transferring from one state position to another. They’ve reviewed hundreds of pages of documents and interviewed other witnesses, publicly and privately.
“We’ve had a lot of evidence about a large, unwarranted, unprecedented payout for a lateral move within state government,” said Del. Erek Barron, co-chair of the committee. “That evidence, I haven’t heard much, if any, opposition to.”
Barron, a Prince George’s County Democrat, also referenced “a lot of evidence about improper expenses or travel and not much, if any, explanation for those expenses.”
Sen. Clarence Lam, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight, said McGrath’s actions remain concerning.
“We have a duty to hold people accountable,” said Lam, who represents parts of Howard and Baltimore counties.
For the better part of four hours, Ward B. Coe, an attorney for the lawmakers, grilled McGrath via video. McGrath’s attorney, Bruce Marcus, appeared at his side.
Coe attempted to get McGrath to describe how he got the Maryland Environmental Service’s board of directors to approve the payout at the end of May, when he left to become Hogan’s chief of staff. It represented a year’s salary of $233,647, plus $5,250 in tuition reimbursement.
“On the advice of my counsel and pursuant to my legal rights, I respectfully decline to answer that question,” McGrath said repeatedly.
McGrath refused to say why he took so many trips and racked up significant expenses during his tenure leading the environmental service from December 2016 until May 31. Coe calculated the agency reimbursed McGrath more than $129,000 — far exceeding the expenses of other former MES directors.
More than $55,000 in expenses was paid to McGrath after he left the environmental service.
The expense reports document extensive U.S. and international travel. McGrath declined to explain why he took the trips and whether they resulted in new business for the environmental service.
He also would not explain why one of his employees, Matthew Sherring, accompanied him on many trips and shared many meals. Sherring testified last week and frequently cited his Fifth Amendment rights as he declined to answer questions.
The Maryland Environmental Service is an independent state agency that performs public works and environmental projects, such as operating landfills and dredging waterways, primarily for local and state government agencies. About 95% of its revenue comes from other government agencies.
It’s overseen by the board, which is appointed by the governor with confirmation by the state Senate. As an independent agency, it is not part of the state personnel and retirement systems and sets its own policies for pay and benefits.
McGrath didn’t follow those policies, according to an audit of his expenses the environmental service ordered this fall. Coe showed the audit’s conclusion during the hearing, which noted hundreds of violations, such as filing expenses past deadlines and exceeding allowed amounts. In several instances, McGrath approved his own expenses.
Coe’s questioning noted inconsistencies, such as McGrath and Sherring both putting in expenses for the same dinner during a conference. And he highlighted questionable hotel stays in Baltimore and Annapolis.
Coe also sought explanations for an online Harvard University leadership course that McGrath took in June. Sherring paid the $14,475 bill for the course and McGrath approved the expense, Coe noted, showing the relevant documents.
Coe showed where McGrath was listed as the approving manager. “That appears to be correct,” McGrath said.
When asked whether he engineered the report so he could approve it himself, McGrath declined to answer. McGrath also declined to say why the environmental service should pay for a course after McGrath moved to the governor’s team.
And while McGrath said he couldn’t recall whether he told anyone at the Maryland Environmental Service about the course, he said he did tell the governor.
“What I told Governor Hogan is that I had been scheduled to take this for five months and that timing happened to coincide with the transition to my new job,” McGrath said.
McGrath wouldn’t say, however, what he told Hogan or anyone else about who paid for the course.
The questioning of McGrath also ventured into the state’s problematic, multimillion purchase of coronavirus tests in April from Lab Genomics, a South Korean company. Hogan credited McGrath with “spearheading” the purchase during a news conference, in a press release and in his political memoir.