Monday, August 22, 2011

Maine: Saving the Turnpike

Earlier this year, scandal engulfed the Maine Turnpike Authority, whose books and records had finally been exposed to public scrutiny. As a result, the quasi-state agency's longtime head, Paul Violette, has resigned and is now the target of a criminal investigation by the Attorney General's office and a nearly half-million dollar law suit by the authority itself. Independent investigators from the state's Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) also identified a troubling relationship between the Authority and their lifelong contract engineering firm, HNTB, and noted a surplus would likely never be produced for the state coffers under the definitions then in place.

So can the Turnpike Authority be turned around? That's the question I explore in the new issue of Down East, which you can now read online. The short answer: it looks very promising, though some critics allege the rot goes higher and deeper than Mr. Violette.

The Turnpike Authority doesn't like the piece, telling us that the board of directors should receive the credit for the reforms enacted under interim director Peter Mills, but none of the responsibility for what occurred under Violette. A convenient arrangement, to be sure, if you can convince third parties of its legitimacy.

Readers may wish to read the OPEGA report for themselves [pdf]. (The agency has a growing library of similar reports on other government-ish programs and agencies available here.) For an especially aggressive piece of spin, check out the Turnpike Authority's Jan. 21 press release entitled "OPEGA Report Reflects Positively on Maine Turnpike Authority." [pdf] Wowza!

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