Peter Mills is an outstanding choice to take on the job of interim director of the Maine Turnpike Authority as the quasi-state agency sets out to restore its reputation for efficiency and effectiveness in the aftermath of damaging revelations about questionable spending practices.

The authority’s board of directors appointed Mills to replace Executive Director Paul Violette, who resigned after the state’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability issued a report detailing turnpike authority expenditures for gift certificates, limousines and hotels.

The report prompted intense media scrutiny of the authority’s operations, expanded involvement in day-to-day management by the board, and spurred a top-to-bottom review by the Legislature of the authority and its role in the state’s transportation system.

It could be argued — and some will — that the board should have appointed someone with hands-on experience in the transportation industry or with more extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of highway engineering and turnpike management.

But the board opted to fill that need by hiring a former state transportation commissioner, Roger Mallar, as a consultant.

The selection of Mills to direct the agency temporarily — he is expected to stay on until at least September — makes sense because it isn’t highway expertise that the authority is lacking at the moment.

What the agency desperately needs is an immediate infusion of respect and respectability, not to mention a clearly defined commitment to public accountability. Few individuals in the state could be better equipped than Mills to meet those needs.

A member of the Legislature for 16 years and a two-time candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Mills understands politics but has often risen above the political fray to espouse independent positions that pleased neither Republicans nor Democrats. The Farmington native and practicing attorney nonetheless commands respect from both sides of the aisle for his integrity and his straightforward approach to public policy.

Whatever changes he implements in the management of the turnpike authority and whatever recommendations he makes regarding the agency’s future, state officials and the public can have confidence that Peter Mills will be acting in the best interests of Maine, its residents and the toll-paying travelers who foot the bill for operation of the turnpike.