Here’s the rational first reaction to the news that Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff got a quarter-million dollar going away present from the state agency he had led for just four years:
And then: How do I get one of those jobs?
Roy McGrath, who had just started on June 1 as the governor’s chief of staff, got a severance payout of almost $240,000 when he voluntarily resigned from the Maryland Environmental Service to go to work for the governor. To the Baltimore Sun, McGrath described it as a “standard business practice.”
We don’t think so. Ridiculous severance packages are sometimes negotiated when a private business is breaking a contract with an employee it wants to get rid of in the worst way possible. But it is not standard when the employee is voluntarily going to another high-paying job.
On Monday, McGrath announced his resignation as the governor’s chief of staff.
“For me, this entire topic is simply the sad politics of personal destruction,” McGrath said in a statement released by the governor’s office.
Uh, no, it isn’t. It is the result of legitimate outrage at an egregious misuse of public money.
The sweetheart deal was approved by the board of the Maryland Environmental Service in late May. MES described the payment “as a well-earned compensation package” for McGrath “having led the organization to its best financial and operational year in our history.” McGrath had led the agency since 2016.
MES is a unit of the state of Maryland, created as a nonprofit business to manage a wide array of projects from dredging Baltimore Harbor to operating landfills on the Eastern Shore and running Montgomery County’s recycling center. According to its 2019 report, it oversaw the dredging of Lake Linganore in Frederick County.
MES receives no direct funding from the state, but most of its clients are tax-supported agencies, so virtually all of its money comes from taxpayers.
Before McGrath resigned, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones described the payout as “truly shocking” and called for hearings. We hope that the resignation does not end up with this controversy swept under the State House’s vast rug in Annapolis.
According to the Sun’s reporting, McGrath’s severance was equal to one year’s salary of $233,647, plus $5,250 in tuition reimbursements. His salary in Hogan’s office was reported as being similar.
McGrath said that his predecessor as the president of MES received “an exit package far larger than mine.” The MES statement said the former leader, Jim Harkins, received $256,746 when he retired in 2016.
But you know what? That doesn’t really make us feel any better about this deal. It just broadens the problem.
The General Assembly leaders must find out how widespread this practice is among the many boards and commissions which populate our sprawling state government. Ferguson and Jones said the right things when the scandal broke. Now they need to follow up.
Ferguson promised action, saying: “There remain outstanding questions about the payments to Mr. McGrath and how we got here, and we must continue to investigate.”
We need to hold him to it. It may not be possible to recover this money from McGrath, but legislators should try to stop it from being repeated at any time in the future, by MES or any other quasi-public agency.