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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Comfort takes job with contractor that does business with his former agency

Maryland Transit Administrator Paul Comfort at an October 2015 announcement of plans to overhaul the regional bus system. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland Transit Administrator Paul Comfort at an October 2015 announcement of plans to overhaul the regional bus system. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

The former head of the Maryland Transportation Administration has taken a position with a company that has a $15 million contract with his former agency.

Paul Comfort, who was abruptly ousted in June from his position as administrator of the state transit agency, joined Trapeze Group this month as vice president of business development. The company was awarded a $15 million contract to provide software services for the state’s Mobility transportation service. The cost of the contract was increased by more than $700,000 in May.

Comfort did not return a call seeking comment. The exact description of his position is unknown.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, confirmed that Comfort, in his role as administrator, would be involved in approving the contracts with Trapeze. That role would bar him from lobbying the state, she said.

“As a former administrator that signed off on all contracts, Paul Comfort, once hired by the private sector, would not be allowed to work on any MTA contract awarded while he was administrator without getting sign off by the Maryland State Ethics Commission,” Henson said. “The checks and balances ensure that Paul will not be assigned to work on a contract in couple of ways.  First, any task order on a contract must provide the name of who is going to do the work.  Before the task order is approved to move forward, there must be a State Ethics Commission statement on whether or not Paul Comfort should be allowed to work on the contract.  A second check happens when the invoice comes in to be paid by MTA.  The invoice must have each person’s name and time sheet attached to the invoice.  That invoice would not be paid if Paul Comfort had worked on the contract.”

“In fact, Trapeze’s senior legal counsel has contacted MTA’s assistant attorney general to notify them of Paul Comfort’s employment and stated Paul Comfort will not be working with MTA nor shall be engaged on any matters directly relating to MTA,” Henson said.

Comfort is an attorney with 28 years experience in public transit and government. He previously served as the assistant project manager and director of operations for MV Transportation and was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s MetroAccess Service.

Comfort and at least one other MTA official were dismissed around the same time that transportation officials learned of nearly $70,000 in furniture that was purchased outside of the state’s standard procurement policies.

Henson said in June that much of the furniture, including expensive office chairs and tables, would be returned. Other items that were custom-made are expected to be placed in public areas.

Gov. Larry Hogan has made ethics reform, including the relationships between public officials and the private sector, a focus of his administration. He issued an executive order on ethics upon being sworn in and pushed for ethics reform legislation in the 2017 session.

Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, declined to comment on Comfort’s new private-sector role, citing personnel concerns.

“As evidenced by this past session and the governor’s efforts to spearhead landmark ethics reform legislation, the standards this administration holds its employees to is second to none,” Mayer said.

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