April 14, 2011

Turnpike records show spending on hotels, meals topped $200,000

Records show the ex-chief of Maine's turnpike agency favored high-end facilities while traveling on business.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Paul Violette
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Paul Violette

The Associated Press

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Scott Tompkins, the turnpike authority's spokesman, said the agency is now adopting the same travel rules as the Maine Department of Transportation, which uses U.S. General Services Administration guidelines to determine maximum rates.

For example, the maximum lodging rate for low-cost areas is $60, plus tax, per night. The maximum dinner rate is $18.

The maximum lodging rate in Manhattan is $212, and maximum spending on meals and other expenses is $73 a day.

By comparison, charges on Violette's credit cards included a $1,051 restaurant tab at the Royal River Grill in Yarmouth for Violette and "various individuals," and $7,976 at the Hotel Palais de la Mediterranee in Nice, France.

Until the new policy for travel and meals is in place, the turnpike authority's interim director, Peter Mills, plans to limit staff members' travel. Mills said he will personally examine all travel requests before giving approval.

He said travel is sometimes critical because officials must attend meetings that help them stay current with technology, such as software for the E-ZPass toll collection system.

Mills said he doesn't plan to travel in the coming months, except to Boston for a regional meeting of toll agencies. He said he'll drive his own car, and drive back to Maine the same day.

"Nobody is going to Europe. Nobody is even going to Canada," he said.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, House chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, said the panel wants to talk to Violette and other turnpike authority officials Friday about the spending for travel and meals.

Burns said the level of spending indicated in the financial documents is not appropriate for a quasi-governmental agency that receives its money from the traveling public. "We are trying to determine how these expenditures were made, under whose authority, for what purposes and who benefited," Burns said.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, a committee member, said he found the spending detailed in the documents particularly infuriating because he grew up in a poor family and struggles today to earn a living as a logger.

He said many of the people who drive on the Maine Turnpike live paycheck-to-paycheck and depend on the turnpike to get to their jobs.

"I'm shocked that officials could take money away from toll payers so they could go and live high off the hog," he said. 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be reached at 699-6261 or at:
tbell@mainetoday.com

 

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