Roy McGrath, former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan, appeared Wednesday before a legislative panel that is investigating a six-figure payout McGrath received when he left his job at a state agency to join Hogan’s staff. During the four-hour hearing, McGrath declined to answer many questions.
Rachel Baye and Nathan Sterner discuss what we know about this controversy.
Why are lawmakers holding these hearings?
Roy McGrath led the Maryland Environmental Service, or MES, for about three years before becoming Hogan’s chief of staff this past June.
Then in August, The Baltimore Sun reported that McGrath had received a $238,000 severance payment when he made that transition. He resigned a few days after the Sun’s story.
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight has spent the last few months investigating the circumstances around the payout.
One of the main questions is whether Hogan knew about or even approved of the payout. McGrath is believed to have told the members of the MES board of directors that Hogan did.
Did the hearing shed more light on whether Hogan knew?
During Wednesday’s hearing, McGrath was under oath but declined to answer any questions related to Hogan.
Hogan has also denied any knowledge of the payment.
However, there is a paper trail of text messages and emails that may shed some light. For example, in communications to MES board members before they approved the payout, McGrath appears to suggest that Hogan is on board.
The lawyer hired by the committee asked McGrath to read aloud a text message that McGrath sent to Hogan on Aug. 26, after he resigned:
“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. I've been one of your loyalist supporters from the beginning. Never asked for anything, but need your help now, please. This is devastating my life.”
McGrath would not say whether he sent that message or elaborate further on its content.
The legislative committee has also been investigating the trips and meals McGrath expensed to MES during his time there. Did the hearing shed light on that spending?
The legislators’ lawyer, Ward Coe, showed McGrath receipts and expense reports and asked him one by one if he recalled the trip or the meal.
McGrath confirmed that he went to Brussels in April 2017, to Italy in October 2017, and to Israel in November 2019.
He was reimbursed nearly $36,000 for 24 domestic out-of-state, as well as for several hotel stays in Baltimore and Annapolis.
McGrath would not explain any of these.
Coe also raised another issue with these expenses: That McGrath appeared to approve several of his own expense reports, including some that sought more than $2,000 in reimbursement.
Again, McGrath declined to explain.
Is that amount of travel unusual for the MES director?
Yes. In three and a half years, McGrath was reimbursed nearly $130,000 in travel and other expenses.
By comparison, his predecessor was in the job for 11 years and was reimbursed just under $16,000.
What is likely to come of this investigation?
The leaders of the committee said they still have some questions they need answered.
Even before they wrap the investigation, though, we are likely to see changes to how MES operates.
The Maryland Environmental Service is a quasi-public agency. It was created by the General Assembly and is publicly funded, but operates outside of some of the rules that govern state agencies.
Legislators have said they are going to reexamine not just MES, but many other quasi-public agencies that exist.
Hogan has said the same. On Wednesday, he announced a new commission to review 14 of these entities.