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Following Scandal, Lawmakers Propose Reshaping Maryland Environmental Service

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State legislators have proposed a series of changes at the Maryland Environmental Service, including substantial changes to the organization’s board of directors.

The quasi-public state entity has been embroiled in a scandal following the news that former director, Roy McGrath, took a six-figure severance payment when he left to become Gov. Larry Hogan’s top aide.


McGrath resigned from the Governor’s Office in August, after The Baltimore Sun first reported on the payout. 


In his three years leading MES, McGrath was reimbursed nearly $130,000 for travel and other expenses. His travel included destinations such as Italy, Israel and Belgium, as well as stays at local hotels, such as the Sagamore Pendry and Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore. 


Then when he left, the MES board of directors approved a $233,000 severance payment after McGrath claimed Hogan was on board with the payout. 


Hogan has denied any prior knowledge of the severance package. 


“The director, Mr. McGrath, and his predecessors, were able to appoint three members of the board with them and then chair the board, which really reduced the amount of sort of independent oversight and transparency there was into what they were doing,” said Del. Marc Korman, a Montgomery County Democrat and the lead House sponsor of legislation reforming MES.


Korman’s bill, an identical version of which is sponsored by Baltimore Democrat Cory McCray in the Senate, would remove the MES director and his appointees from the board, as well as add the state treasurer to the board. 


Among a long list of other changes, the bill prohibits severance payments to employees who leave for state government jobs; requires the appointment of a diversity officer; and gives the Board of Public Works oversight of certain contracts worth more than $250,000. 


The bill also requires the MES board to give the legislature a report of its policies related to severance, bonuses, expense reimbursements, travel, whistleblower complaints and a few other topics. 


“We can't necessarily undo through this legislation some of the things Mr. McGrath in particular did,” Korman said, “but we can ensure that none of his successors or others at the agency sort of act that way with impunity — to that level of abuse of expense reimbursements, severance policies, and then some things we heard about the culture at the agency, which we think a stronger board and more legislative insight into the body and the role of the state treasurer on the board can help us prevent in the future.”


House Speaker Adrienne Jones said the reform effort will be a priority when the legislative session convenes next month.


Some of the proposed changes — particularly the removal of the MES director and his appointees from the organization’s board of director — were suggested by Hogan in a letter to Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson in September. 


Earlier this month, Hogan also created a commission to consider changes at 14 quasi-public agencies, including MES.


Korman said some of those other entities could see reforms, too, but most likely not this year.


“All of those quasi-public state agencies were not all created at the same time, and they're not necessarily going to be able to be reformed and adjusted at the same time,” he said.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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