SANFORD – Sometimes in life, the most important thing is being given the opportunity to speak. So far, the turnpike authority and its employees have been given very little.

Meanwhile, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and its friends in state government have been given more than their share.

This has led the people of Maine toward a very one-sided and negative conclusion about the Maine Turnpike Authority and how it operates.

We as turnpike employees feel that we also deserve the right to be heard.

The publicity surrounding this issue has been very upsetting to turnpike employees and their families. Most of us take a lot of pride in what we do, and wearing that uniform means something to us. It has always seemed important to put my best foot forward when serving the people of Maine and its visitors.

LONG HOURS

When my kids were growing up, they learned to deal with my working all those weekends and holidays. They got used to it. I never really did. The hours and conditions are often terrible, but we believe in what we do.

Regarding this investigation, it is clear that there has probably been some unethical behavior here, with a very few individuals (probably only one). As much as 1 percent of turnpike funds may have been involved, and that’s a lot of money. I’m not sure anyone has mentioned that.

One group brought up our alleged salaries to the media and were only about $20,000 or $30,000 off, and that seemed to increase dramatically as days went by. No one seemed to care that there were hundreds of innocent bystanders when this all began. We were all their apparent targets.

Then finally, after months of communications with legislators, writing letters, and my complaining, they finally came out and admitted that it wasn’t the employees’ fault. But they forgot one thing. They never apologized.

A commentary by Dawn Hill published in The Portland Press Herald on April 20 for me was the boiling point (“Don’t blame turnpike workers for bosses’ excesses”).

Ms. Hill, a legislator from York, is well-known to most turnpike employees for taking a grudge and turning it into a crusade against the authority.

To begin with, her commentary was in response to a number of letters I had sent to the OPEGA. They had been intended for the press, but only one had been published. They dealt with how this investigation had affected turnpike employees and its unfairness to them.

I find it interesting that after all this time, Ms. Hill is expressing sympathy to turnpike personnel.

Where was she when the collectors at York toll were constantly suffering from back problems due to the sinking of that toll station, and the fact that this phenomenon requires them to bend over more when waiting on cars? This problem still exists.

Where was that sympathy when she “championed” this obsessive crusade against the authority with total disregard for the employees? She may have found some turnpike officials to be arrogant and unfeeling, but the authority consists of a great deal more than just a few people.

Now that former Executive Director Paul Violette has left the authority in apparent disgrace, Ms. Hill is still proclaiming that “there are significant problems deep rooted and long ignored at the authority.” Is this just an attempt to turn a molehill into a mountain?

This fishing expedition has been a tragedy for the authority and the people of Maine. The reputation of this agency, which has honorably served those people for decades, has been enormously damaged due to the behavior of one man and the witch hunt that has resulted from this.

EASY TO OVERLOOK

It’s very easy to understand how other turnpike officials could have, to some degree, overlooked some of the activities of which Violette has been accused.

He was kind and easy to like and admire. He was a brilliant executive and, with his years with the authority, accomplished a great deal. For all of us who know him, this is very sad. For those who are apparently continuing this travesty at so many people’s expense, it is even sadder. Is this why we pay taxes?

For those involved, I have one last comment. Often, in an overzealous attempt to repair something, we destroy what is really important. It is far easier to destroy than it is to create.

The legislators involved in this need to take a long, hard look at what they are doing here and re-evaluate it. Too many people have been hurt. 

– Special to the Telegram