Wednesday, June 9, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Public Television (MPT) officials will not be disciplined for violating contracting rules from 2000 to 2002, state officials said yesterday.

The decision was part of an investigation by the state’s Department of General Services, which concluded that the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission’s MPT sidestepped state procedures to avoid missing deadlines for receiving federal funds.

“The review found no evidence” that the commission’s failure to follow procurement regulations and procedures “resulted from any reason other than an effort to meet deadlines imposed by its funding sources,” said Boyd K. Rutherford, secretary of the General Services Department.

Mr. Rutherford said the commission’s procedure for awarding nearly $500,000 in contracts was not illegal, but acknowledged that MPT failed to comply with state procurement regulations.

MPT uses state funds and public donations to operate television stations in Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick, Hagerstown, Oakland and Salisbury.

The state inquiry started in late April after members of the state’s Board of Public Works asked Mr. Rutherford to investigate whether MPT officials had circumvented a standard review of contracts exceeding $25,000 from 2000 to 2002.

The three-member board became concerned after a legislative audit that showed MPT, in one case, skirted the $25,000 review threshold by dividing a $394,373 project into 18 contracts. A $74,950 project was broken down into three contracts. In some instances, contracts were just a few dollars below the limit, the audit found.

Robert J. Shuman, MPT chief executive and president, said he welcomed the audit.

He said the station was attempting to meet deadlines for grants from the U.S. Department of Education to produce a series for parents of school-age children.

“We previously acknowledged there were procurement infractions,” he said. “We commend [the Department of General Services] and Secretary Rutherford for taking prompt action that has now resulted in a forthright record of the facts and findings.”

Although MPT officials were not punished, the state has made changes.

State Budget Secretary James C. “Chip” DiPaula Jr. temporarily has reduced the review threshold to $2,500, and state officials are training station staffers on procurement policies.

Mr. DiPaula declined to comment on the report.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, sits on the public works board with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, both Democrats. Mr. Ehrlich has assigned spokesman Greg Massoni to oversee the reform, but he was not available yesterday for comment.

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