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Dismissed Md. transit official authorized nearly $70K in furniture

Dismissed Md. transit official authorized nearly $70K in furniture

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Nearly $70,000 in office furniture was purchased at the direction of a recently fired senior official of the Maryland Transit Administration in apparent violation of state procurement law.

Invoices from the Maryland Department of Transportation obtained at the request of The Daily Record show that James Knighton ordered furniture valued at $65,710 from Hunt Valley-based Studio Partnership. The orders, placed in February and March, were delivered to Knighton at the MTA offices in the William Donald Schaefer Tower on St. Paul Street.

State procurement law requires that purchases over $25,000 be competitively bid.

Knighton was quietly let go from his job as chief of staff at the agency Tuesday, the same day as his boss, MTA Administrator Paul Comfort, was fired.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the department, declined to comment on the purchase orders or if they were related to the terminations, saying she could not comment on personnel issues.

Knighton, who was not immediately available for comment, appears to play a key role in each purchase.

In the notes of the purchase orders, Knighton appears to skirt the requirement by declaring it a sole-source order — a designation that typically applies to companies that provide a unique good or service not available from other companies.

Items ordered include a conference table, conference room lighting, window shades, a clock, 36 guest chairs, one office chair valued at more than $500, a credenza valued at nearly $800.

In each case, notes associated with the purchases show that “the procurement is sole source at the direction of Jim Knighton.”

A spokesperson for the transportation department said officials became aware of the purchases in the middle of May. Most of the items have been paid for, the spokesperson said.

“The majority of the furniture was delivered and has been put in storage,” the spokesperson said. “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.”

Knighton was hired in 2015 as chief of staff at the agency and served under Comfort.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn Tuesday announced that Comfort, also hired in May 2015, was being replaced by Kevin B. Quinn, Jr.

Henson said Tuesday night that Comfort “is transitioning out of the department.” No reason was given for the departure.

A message left on Comfort’s cell phone was not immediately returned.

Henson declined to provide details of his departure but said his last day in the office was Tuesday though he will remain on the state payroll until June 17. Henson declined to explain why Comfort would remain an employee for 11 more days, saying it was a personnel matter.

Quinn is serving as acting administrator of the agency.

Transportation officials later confirmed that Knighton has also left the agency.

Knighton’s last day was Tuesday but is also being kept on the payroll until June 17.

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