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State Highway Administration official leaves after audit

The top procurement official at the State Highway Administration has left the agency four months after a harshly critical legislative audit criticized the agency's performance in the awarding of contracts.

The SHA announced the departure of Robert P. Gay, director of the agency's Office of Procurement, in an email to staff on Monday. SHA officials, saying that state law prevents them from commenting on personnel matters, gave no explanation.

But Gay, reached at his home in Harford County, confirmed his departure. He did not explain the reason he left but said, "It's in line with all the audit stuff."

The wording of the announcement by Deputy Administrator Cheryl R.B. Hill was terse: "This e-mail is to advise you that, as of today, Robert (Bob) P. Gay is no longer at SHA. Any procurement-related issues previously handled by Bob should be forwarded to Norie Calvert. Norie is serving as Acting Director of the Office of Procurement and Contracts until recruitment is completed and the position is filled."

SHA's procurement operation is one of the areas that came under scrutiny in an audit whose release on July 1 followed by one day Administrator Neil J. Pedersen's abrupt departure.

Legislative auditors found evidence of a revolving door in which former SHA executives were routinely hired by agency contractors — and in one official's case became involved in a procurement that he had worked on at the agency.

Acting SHA Administrator Darrell Mobley indicated in August that more changes were coming. This week he declined to answer questions about Gay's departure. Nor would he comment on whether the agency had seen a draft of an expected second audit.

Gay said he would remain on administrative leave until Nov. 21 and was "weighing [his] options" and "glad to be out of there." He did not elaborate.

At the time of the audit's release, Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley indicated that a high-ranking official of the agency's construction office had left the agency involuntarily.

The Office of Legislative Audits, the investigative arm of the General Assembly, said that an official had solicited sponsorships from state contractors of a golf tournament in which he had a financial stake.

Auditors also faulted a practice of moving work between contracts without seeking required approval from the Board of Public Works — a practice Mobley and Swaim-Staley said they found had become routine at the agency.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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