These guys are still drawing turnpike paychecks, although they now report directly to the board instead of the executive director. Considering the vigilance board members have demonstrated to date ("More foie gras and champagne, waiter"), it's a mystery how this change might improve the situation.
Finally, there's the basic structure of the MTA, a "quasi-governmental" agency accountable to no one. LePage has said he wants to merge the pike with the state Department of Transportation (motto: Less Incompetent Than The Department of Health And Human Services, Although Not By Much). Previous governors have tried that. They failed. And a few of them were capable politicians, an accusation rarely leveled at LePage.
Mills is honest and smart (although not highly rated at keeping track of his possessions). He won't tolerate any Violette-style nonsense, such as spending $11 million on a new MTA headquarters or proposing to replace the York toll plaza at a cost that would pay for a couple of high schools.
But someday soon, Mills will move on. A new board will grow fat and lazy. And the level of oversight will start to slip. Bills in the Legislature to require a more thorough review of the pike's budget, ban it from hiring outside lobbyists, require competitive bidding for engineering contracts, and halt donations to outside agencies will correct some obvious shortcomings, but won't change a culture of high living and low moral standards.
Mills says that will take time.
"The people who work here are deeply sensitive to how different life has to be," he said. "They're ready to change."
I hope that doesn't happen too fast. Because before I return Mills's E-ZPass, I'm taking an all-expenses-paid vacation in Prague.
I'll respond to e-mails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org when I get back from Europe. Or jail.