Former Maryland transit official spent $65,000 on office remodel

One of the top officials who abruptly departed from the Maryland Transit Administration this week had authorized spending more than $65,000 on remodeling the administrator's office, according to documents released Friday.

James Knighton, chief of staff for MTA Administrator Paul Comfort, had ordered furniture, wall coverings, millwork and window coverings for Comfort's office in downtown Baltimore. The purchases were made without seeking competitive bids, which is normally required under Maryland law for purchases worth more than $25,000.

Maryland Department of Transportation officials would not say if the furniture purchases were what led to the departure of Knighton and his boss. The Transportation Department on Tuesday said both men had left the agency.

Neither Knighton nor Comfort could be reached for comment Friday evening.

Top state transportation officials became aware of the furniture purchase in mid-May, and most of the items already have been paid for, spokeswoman Erin Henson said.

"The majority of the furniture was delivered and has been put in storage," Henson said in a statement. "We will be returning what we can. As much of it is custom made and cannot be returned, we will be distributing that furniture in public places throughout MDOT."

The furniture was destined for the MTA offices on the 26th and 27th floors of the William Donald Schaefer Building in Baltimore, according to purchase orders that were released in response to a request from The Baltimore Sun.

Most of the work was split into two purchase orders dated March 7 to Studio Partnership LLC of Hunt Valley. Knighton authorized Studio Partnership as a "sole source" contractor.

In one purchase order, Knighton ordered wall coverings, millwork and wood veneer millwork for a conference room, a conference table and 36 chairs and a "floating light" totaling $36,015.04.

The second order included "miscellaneous furniture for administrators office" including window treatments, solar shades, a meeting table, eight side chairs, two lounge chairs, a brochure holder, a clock and millwork. That order totalled $28,068.90.

Notes on the order include: "This work and associated fixtures are required to make improvements to the MTA Administrator's office area."

The third order, dated Feb. 3, was for a credenza and two chairs for $1,627. That order was with Maryland Correctional Enterprises, a program of the state prison system.

State law requires that when agencies seek to purchase items worth more than $25,000, there should be a competitive, sealed bidding process. Exceptions are allowed for instances such as an emergency or when only one company provides the items.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn announced Tuesday that Comfort — whose annual salary was $215,000 — was being replaced by Kevin Quinn, the MTA director of planning and programming. Quinn is now acting administrator. Rahn also confirmed that Knighton, whose salary was $124,000, was no longer with the state.

Rahn gave no reason for Comfort's and Knighton's departures.

Their departures come at a critical time for the transit agency, which is about to roll out a revamped bus system known as BaltimoreLink. Comfort had been scheduled to promote BaltimoreLink this month, including in speeches before the Greater Baltimore Committee and the BWI Business Partnership.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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