BOSTON – Gov. Mitt Romney officially seized control of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the troubled Big Dig on Wednesday as his hand-picked successor to former Turnpike Chairman Matthew Amorello called his first board meeting to order.
New Turnpike Chairman John Cogliano is set to push through a series of changes that Romney has characterized as reforms, including a motion to revoke free FastLane transponders and tolls for board members and Turnpike management.
"There's a new era here," Cogliano said Wednesday. "We are going to have for the first time accountability, transparency and reform."
The board is expected to accept an offer by the executive search agency Korn/Ferry International to conduct a free search for a new Turnpike chief executive officer, and to repeal provisions that had given the Turnpike chairman increased power over the board's agenda.
The board is also set to approve an anti-patronage policy requiring anyone seeking a job at the Turnpike to disclose the names of any family member and anyone related to any family member who already works for the Turnpike, works for the state, or is an elected official.
Romney encouraged the board members to devote themselves to the public good.
"More important than the substantive decisions you will make during your tenure on this board will be your insistence that this agency rebuff patronage, self-interest and favoritism always in favor of the public interest," Romney said.
"Today the Turnpike becomes the road to reform," he said.
The change at the Turnpike is a victory for Romney, who has relentlessly pursued control of the independent state authority. One of Romney's campaign pledges during his 2002 campaign was to merge the state transportation department and the turnpike authority.
The two agencies are set to merge next year, but Romney succeeded in replacing Amorello in the wake of last month's fatal accident that killed 39-year-old Milena Del Valle of Boston when 12 tons of ceiling panels fell from a Big Dig tunnel and crushed her car.
Romney seized on the accident as further proof that Amorello, who had served four years, had mismanaged the Big Dig. As chairman of the independent authority, Amorello was out of Romney's direct political control. Amorello resigned after a court ruling that Romney could hold a closed-door personnel hearing on whether to fire him.
"I think there was no question that he took advantage of the moment to carry out a political agenda that he'd been pursuing for three and a half years," Amorello said in an interview Tuesday with WBZ-TV on his last day in office.
Romney has said one of the virtues of having Cogliano, the state's Transportation Secretary, at the helm of the Turnpike Authority is that Cogliano is under his control.
"John Cogliano can be replaced by me, and is therefore accountable to an elected official," Romney said Monday.
Under the new management structure, Cogliano will serve as Turnpike chairman. The day-to-day oversight of the Big Dig and Turnpike will be left up to an as-yet-unnamed chief executive officer. Amorello, whose last day was Tuesday, had performed both functions.
Romney has also vowed to conduct a "stem to stern" review of the massive $14.6 billion Big Dig to see if there are any other potential flaws in the nation's most complex highway project.
Another item on the meeting's agenda would require the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to provide to the board with an update on the progress of surface area projects.