Baltimore’s Comptroller, Joan M. Pratt, has hired a senior aide who was dismissed from state government two years ago after he authorized a lavish array of office furniture and wall coverings for his boss.
James L. Knighton was ousted as chief of staff to Maryland Transit Administrator Paul W. Comfort on June 6, 2017 – three day before The Daily Record and Baltimore Sun revealed that he had ordered $65,710 worth of furniture and furnishings for Comfort’s office at MTA headquarters in Baltimore.
Following a two-year hiatus, Knighton has reemerged as Pratt’s assistant for public affairs.
Knighton told The Brew today that his new job, which started last Thursday, will consist of writing speeches and remarks for the comptroller, evaluating the effects of state and federal laws on the city, reviewing Board of Estimates agendas, updating internal policies – “and, as they say, other duties as assigned.”
His salary is $90,000 a year.
Pratt: “No Criminal Charges”
Pratt today defended Knighton’s appointment, saying he will bring valuable skills to her office.
Asked about his involvement in the furniture scandal, she said, “It was probably not good judgment, but from what I understand, there were no criminal or civil charges.”
“His duties,” she emphasized, “will not include any procurement actions or supervising anything.”
“It was probably not good judgment, but from what I understand, there were no criminal or civil charges.” – Joan Pratt.
She said she picked Knighton after interviewing two candidates. Altogether, five people applied for the position, she said, but three of them either lived outside of the city or sought a higher salary.
“I wanted someone who lived in the city,” she said.
In his ethics disclosure form, Knighton says he owns a condo unit in North Baltimore and holds a 11.5% passive interest in a company based in Annapolis.
That company, Knighton Holdings Limited Partnership, LLLP, is currently “not in good standing” with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation for failing to file an annual report.
Knighton: No Comment
Knighton said he did not wish to make any comment about the furniture scandal except to say that his dismissal “was tied to the departure of the administrator.”
News articles said that Knighton may have violated state procurement laws, which require competitive bidding on contracts above $25,000.
Knighton had split the office purchases into two orders, each going to a single-source vendor, Studio Partnership LLC of Hunt Valley.
Knighton authorized $36,000 to refurbish a conference room with wall covers, 36 chairs and a new table. Another order: $550 for a Viper task chair and $792 for a credenza.
In one order, $36,015 was spent to refurbish the administrator’s conference room. Expenditures included wall coverings and millwork, plus a conference table, 36 chairs and a “floating light.”
The second order included “miscellaneous furniture for administrator’s office,” including $550 for a Viper task chair and $792 for a credenza. This order was over $28,000.
Because most of the furniture was custom-made, MTA could not return it. An MTA spokesperson said the furniture would be distributed “to public places” throughout the agency.
Hired by BCCC
A real estate and business lawyer before joining state government, Knighton said he faced no legal actions stemming from his tenure at MTA.
After leaving the agency, Knighton was self-employed as a “public transit and policy advocate.”
In late 2017, he was hired as director of government relations for Baltimore City Community College by then-college president, Gordon F. May.
He remained at BCCC until August, according to his LinkedIn profile.