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Courtesy of Maine Turnpike Authority | APPaul Violette is shown in May 2009 when he was executive directory of the Maine Turnpike Authority. Violette resigned on Monday, March 7, 2011, amid questions and growing criticism about the turnpike finances and his leadership.AP | APTraffic approaches Maine Turnpike toll booths, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, in Gardiner, Maine. The turnpike authority's director has resigned amid questions about the agency's spending.
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Correction: In a March 7 story about the resignation of Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette, The Associated Press, relying on information from the authority, misidentified some of the groups that received hotel and restaurant gift certificates from Violette from 2005-2007. Authority spokesman Scott Tompkins on Tuesday provided a letter written by Violette in December stating that the groups that [http://www.insurewatches.com replica watches]got gift certificates included the Maine Better Transportation Association; Maine Preservation; Friends of Scarborough Marsh; Family Crisis Center; Biddeford Chamber of Commerce; Ducks Unlimited; Mercy Hospital; Saco Chamber of Commerce; and the Salvation Army, but not the Maine Motor Transport Association; the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association; The Nature Conservancy; and Maine Audubon.
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This is a list of reader-oriented '''portal articles''' (like doors or entry ports) that help readers find and browse through articles related to a specific subject.
PORTLAND, Maine  — The longtime executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority resigned Monday amid questions and growing criticism about turnpike finances and his leadership.
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In a letter to the Maine Turnpike Authority board, Paul Violette wrote that he has become a central issue for many legislators in the wake of a report issued by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability questioning some of his agency’s contracting practices and expenditure controls. The authority is a quasi-state agency that oversees the 109-mile Maine Turnpike, which runs from Kittery to Augusta.
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In particular, Violette has come under fire for distributing $157,493 worth of gift certificates for high-end restaurants and hotels between 2005 and 2007 to organizations affiliated with the turnpike. Violette has not been able to document who received the cards.
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In his letter of resignation, which was accepted unanimously by the seven-member board, Violette said the accountability office report recognized several positive aspects about the agency.
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“However, I believe my continued leadership has become a distraction, causing those positives to be obscured and implementation of those recommendations to be delayed,” Violette wrote. “It is my hope that my resignation and the appointment of an able replacement will allow the focus to return to ways in which the Maine Turnpike Authority may continue to improve.”
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Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, said the new Republican-controlled Legislature has been demanding accountability from Violette and the Turnpike Authority, something he said legislators and governors failed to do in the past.
The authority has been involved in “egregious” practices in the past decade, including giving “lavish pay raises” to administrators and doling out gift cards to luxury hotels and fine restaurants, he said.
“I think this is a first good step toward making the Maine Turnpike Authority transparent and accountable. It’s long overdue,” Bragdon said.
Violette, 55, became executive director of the Turnpike Authority in January 1988. The agency has had only four directors since it was formed in 1941.
Violette was a state senator from Van Buren in the early to mid-1980s and served as Senate majority leader in the 112th Legislature, 1985-86.
Under his watch, annual turnpike traffic grew from about 35 million to more than 60 million vehicles, and the highway was widened from four lanes to six from York to Portland.
But the agency has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. Some legislators have proposed abolishing the Turnpike Authority or diverting more control of the toll road to the Legislature.
The OPEGA report, which was released to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee in January, questioned the authority’s relationship with an engineering firm, how it manages its service contracts, how it calculates its operating budget and its policies on travel and meal expenses. But what got many legislators’ attention was Violette’s distribution of the gift certificates that the turnpike authority says were donated to organizations.
The gift certificates were good at high-end Portland-area restaurants including Back Bay Grill, Street & Co., Fore Street, Royal River Grillhouse, Bandol, Saltwater Grille and David’s. Others were good at lodging establishments including the Black Point Inn in Scarborough and the Portland Harbor Hotel, as well as chains such as Marriott and Fairmont Hotels. Violette gave out $35,000 of certificates from Relais & Chateaux, a Paris-based company with luxury hotels and restaurants worldwide.
Violette has said he distributed the certificates to organizations affiliated with the turnpike authority, but hasn’t been able to give a precise accounting. Those organizations include local chambers of commerce, trade groups such as the Maine Motor Transport Association and the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, and nonprofit groups including The Nature Conservancy and Maine Audubon, said turnpike spokesman Scott Tompkins.
The Government Oversight Committee is gathering information from the restaurants and hotels to pin down who exactly used the gift certificates, said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the committee. With unanswered questions about agency expenditures, Violette has become a “lightning rod” for criticism, he said.
“We think we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this,” Katz said. “These are public funds.”
Violette did not appear at the authority’s board meeting Monday and could not be reached for comment. But Tompkins said questions surrounding the gift certificates were probably the tipping point that forced Violette’s resignation.
“It’s become the singular focus of several legislators and others,” Tompkins said.
The Maine Turnpike Authority board will appoint an interim executive director to fill Violette’s term, which expires in September, and begin a search for a permanent replacement, Tompkins said.
== Voters likely to see referendum on proposed Bangor arena ==
Kevin Bennett | BDNKen Wicks, left, talks with reporters during a press conference at Bangor City Hall on Friday, January, 14, 2011. Wicks and Bob Cimbollek, right, submitted a petition to the Bangor city clerk containing more than the 2, 236 signatures necessary to force a referendum on the proposed $65 million Bangor Arena project. BDN Photo by Kevin BennettKevin Bennett | BDNKen Wicks talks with reporters during a press conference at Bangor City Hall on Friday, January, 14, 2011. Ken Wicks and Bob Cimbollek submitted a petition containing more then 2, 236 signatures nessasary to force a referendum on the propsed $65 million Bangor Arena. BDN Photo by Kevin BennettKevin Bennett | BDNBob Cimbollek, center, talks with reporters during a press conference at Bangor City Hall on Friday, January, 14, 2011. Cimbollek has containing more then 2, 236 signatures nessasary to force a referendum on the propsed $65 million Bangor Arena. BDN Photo by Kevin Bennett
BANGOR, Maine — City voters may get to have a say after all in whether Bangor should embark on the biggest construction project in its history.
Petitioners have gathered enough signatures to force a citywide referendum on whether Bangor should proceed with plans for the estimated $65 million arena and convention center complex.
Bob Cimbollek, Ken Wicks and Steve Sleeper, the three principal collaborators on the petition drive, delivered about 2,600 signatures Friday to the city clerk’s office, about 15 percent more than the 2,236 needed.
The clerk has 20 days to certify the petition, after which a vote would be scheduled.
“I should be happy, but I’m disappointed,” Wicks said outside City Hall, referring to the recent actions of what he called an “out-of-control City Council.”
City councilors have tentatively moved forward with a [http://www.juestlovewatches.com replica watches] proposed 5,800 fixed-seat arena (with a maximum seating capacity of 8,050 for certain events) and an adjacent convention center to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center. The project currently is in what’s known as the design development stage, but the City Council has not yet fully committed to building a new complex.
The petitioners insist they are not against building a new arena and convention center; they just want taxpayers to have a vote. Although the city has hosted dozens of public meetings and workshops over the last few years on the topic, there has been no citywide vote.
Cimbollek and others have said the project is simply too expensive and critics do not believe the city has enough funding sources to pay for construction. He would rather see the city rehabilitate the existing facilities for a lot less money.
He said the petition-gathering process confirmed his belief that others share his concerns.
“Some were grabbing the clipboard out of my hand,” Cimbollek said.
City Councilor Gerry Palmer, who was at City Hall on Friday as the petitioners delivered signatures, said he respected the public process but he hopes supporters work hard to educate the public on the project.
“There is a lot of misinformation that’s out there and there will probably be more,” he said.
In all likelihood, if the signatures are certified, a referendum vote would be held in June since there already is an election scheduled. The City Clerk’s Office also is in the process of certifying petitions from a group seeking to overturn a recent council decision to consolidate police and fire dispatch services with Penobscot County.
Palmer said it is the right of the people to petition when they feel strongly about something.
“I expect we’ll see more down the road,” he said. “We’re elected to listen to the people and we believe we’ve done that.”
After several years of discussion, councilors finally are united in their support for the arena project. Although some have balked at the high costs, even the most fiscally conservative councilors are comfortable that the costs will be covered without relying on taxpayers.
More recently, councilors worked with architect Don Dethlefs and construction manager Cianbro Corp. to alter the initial design plans to bring the overall cost down to about $65 million, in large part to assuage public concerns.
The city has designated its share of Hollywood Slots proceeds to pay for the arena and convention center. Additionally, councilors have committed to using a portion of Bangor’s downtown tax increment financing district funds. Finally, a friends group of local business and civic leaders has formed to solicit private sector donations once the project officially gets a green light.
Based on projections from the main funding source, Hollywood Slots, Bangor could afford a $54 million project using that source alone. The city so far has collected about $10 million from the racino and expects to collect between $2.5 million and $3 million annually over the next three decades.
Wicks disputes those projections and says the city should use actual numbers. According to financial information provided by the state Gambling Control Board, the amount of slots revenue that went to Bangor in 2010 was about $2.1 million. In 2009, it was just under $2 million.
One variable that could change the equation is whether Hollywood Slots is successful in adding table games such as blackjack and poker. Voters last November approved a resort casino in Oxford County that would combine slot machines and table games.

Revision as of 16:38, 27 March 2013

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