The most devastating question posed to Paul Violette by a legislative panel on Friday was the last.

Sen. Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican, asked the former Maine Turnpike Authority executive director, “If you caught a toll taker stealing money from a cash drawer and spending it on themselves, what would you do, sir?”

Violette, as he did repeatedly Friday, did not answer, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Whether he actually committed a crime will be up to the legal system to decide, but what was clear was that, at least at the top levels of management, bad judgment was rampant at the quasi-state agency.

Even if the $200,000 allegedly spent by Violette on first-class hotels, spa services and even a new tuxedo for himself turns out to be entirely legal, serious questions have to be asked about other decisions made by the senior policymakers at the MTA that involve millions of dollars paid by the toll road’s users.

Accounts of irregularities surrounding the way the MTA has spent public money have been dribbling out all year, leading to Violette’s resignation last month. An unfortunate outcome of the slowly developing story has been backlash by motorists against the people who collect tolls on the Turnpike.

The anger is understandable, but the target is totally inappropriate.

It wasn’t the toll takers who stayed in the best hotels in New York, Quebec City and the Czech Republic, ate in the best restaurants and put thousands of dollars on the agency’s tab.

And it wasn’t the toll takers who proposed building an $11 million headquarters for the agency or a $34 million toll plaza in York. Based on the poor judgment that already has been exposed, all decision-making at the MTA should be questioned carefully.

Violette did not answer Katz’s last question, but he didn’t have to. A toll collector who stole from the cash drawer would be fired at least, and probably prosecuted.

If it’s proven that’s what Violette did, this will be more than just a case of sloppy management.

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