SSA member rebuffs charge of conflict
Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the Vineyard's appointed representative to the Steamship Authority (SSA) board, this week shrugged off suggestions by Tisbury officials and business owners that he faces a possible conflict regarding a proposed 2006 schedule that would move several boats from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs.
The latest flashpoint in the fractious relationship between the Vineyard SSA member and Tisbury leaders erupted following a recommendation made by boatline management at the September monthly meeting in Hyannis to spread out the arrivals of freight and passenger vessels by shifting four vessels to Oak Bluffs on next year's summer and fall schedule.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said the proposed changes were a response to concerns expressed frequently by the Tisbury selectmen about SSA-generated traffic and congestion.
Tisbury selectmen maintain that the SSA's inattention to staging and traffic flow on its terminal property, not the schedule, is the main cause of traffic congestion.
The SSA board is expected to vote on the proposed schedule and rate hikes when it meets on October 20 in Vineyard Haven.
Last week, Tisbury selectmen and business owners reacted with alarm at the possible impact on the town's business community and suggested that favoritism and not traffic concerns were at the heart of the SSA management recommendation.
At last week's meeting of the Tisbury selectmen, Ray LaPorte, board chairman, said Mr. Hanover faced a possible conflict. Asked to expand on his comment in a brief telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Mr. LaPorte said, "He is a businessman on the main thoroughfare in town, and like all of us we have to be careful about the potential appearance of conflict and that is all that I was intending to say." He added, "He potentially could gain from having more foot traffic from the change of boats and that is what I meant."
Mr. Hanover, owner of the popular Linda Jean's Restaurant on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, said Tisbury selectmen were attempting to divert attention from their own lack of leadership with baseless accusations that he termed "ridiculous."
This week, two former SSA Island members, Ron Rappaport of Chilmark, a well-known Island attorney, and J.B. Riggs Parker, Chilmark selectman, spoke out in Mr. Hanover's defense.
Keep status quo
At the September meeting, Mr. Hanover spoke in favor of a management proposal that would shift the 11 am, 6:30 pm, and 7:30 pm boats from Woods Hole to Oak Bluffs between May 17 and October 10. At the meeting, Mr. Lamson suggested the schedule might further be changed to include the 7 am out of Woods Hole now scheduled for Vineyard Haven.
Although the subject of schedule changes was reported in both Island newspapers, no Tisbury representatives, or members of the Tisbury business community attended the boatline meeting.
In a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman, described a litany of complaints regarding offending boatline policies, a lack of communication by Mr. Hanover, and what he described as slanted news coverage by The Times that portrays the selectmen in a poor light.
Mr. Israel said he planned to attend today's port council meeting in Hyannis with Tom Pachico, selectman and Tisbury port council representative, to discuss the town's unhappiness with the proposed changes. He said the selectmen also planned to meet with Mr. Lamson Friday to discuss a host of issues including terminal infrastructure.
Mr. Israel said the schedule changes were raised without any prior discussion with the Tisbury board of selectmen.
"That did not happen this time around, and usually they would take the initiative to come in and talk to us about any schedule changes," said Mr. Israel.
Mr. Israel disputed the view that the selectmen are responsible for the schedule change. He said his position has been very clear.
"I am very happy with the status quo as far as automobile ferries are concerned," he said. "I am not asking for a reduction in them. I am not asking for an increase in them.
I personally would like to see more passenger boats in here."
Asked if he agreed with Mr. LaPorte's view of a possible conflict on Mr. Hanover's part, Mr. Israel said there appears to be a double standard involving Oak Bluffs. "I hope that our representative is fairly representing both towns," he said.
Tom Pachico said he had nothing to say regarding any potential conflict and wanted to concentrate on solving the existing disagreements. "I'm not the one raising the flag on it," he said.
Mr. Pachico disputed the notion that the boat schedules or the decision this summer not to assign police to direct traffic, another flashpoint, was a major cause of congestion, which he laid at the doorstep of the SSA.
Mr. Pachico said the boatline had not made promised changes meant to alleviate backups from the terminal check-in booth entrance and as a result vehicles backed up to Five Corners. He said the pick-up drive-through lanes were unmarked and unattended.
"The SSA did not do any of the things they said they were going to do," he said.
On Sunday evening, the owner of a Tisbury taxi company distributed flyers to shops along Main Street in Vineyard Haven. The flyer said that due to complaints of congestion, the SSA was considering moving several morning boats to Oak Bluffs, including the 7:45 am arrival. The flyer, signed town of Tisbury taxi owners, said, "If we lose these boats we lose thousands of dollars each year." The flyer urged business owners to call the selectmen and the SSA prior to the meeting. It also declared, "Oak Bluffs businesses are so happy they have already announced an OB park and ride. Don't let it happen."
Ira Yaffe, owner of Triple A taxi, said he decided to print up flyers because he was concerned and did not see any activity by business owners. "Those boats are important to businesses in town, my businesses included," he said. "I just wanted to make people aware that if this does happen it is going to cost the town a lot of money."
The Tisbury Business Association (TBA), a loosely organized group of business people, has so far taken no public stance. Steve Perlman, TBA president, said his group does not want to see any shift of boats and plans to outline its view in a letter to the SSA board.
Asked why the TBA did not send a representative to the last SSA meeting, Mr. Perlman skirted the questions and responded that the TBA has maintained direct contact with SSA representatives over the years on a number of issues. "We have done our best to work with them to maintain a good schedule for Vineyard Haven," he said, "one that is supportive of business concerns."
This week the TBA sent out a flyer with the heading, "Just what we need, no movie and less boats." The flyer advised TBA members to contact town, county, and SSA officials and listed the dates of upcoming meetings, including today's port council meeting.
The flyer also included the amount of money the town collected in room occupancy taxes for the past five years ($132,454 in fiscal year 2005) and the amount of wages generated by local businesses, $21,250,214.
Responding to complaints by Tisbury selectmen about a lack of communication, Mr. Lamson said that it has been his understanding that the port council members would keep town officials informed of any proposed changes. He said the proposed schedule change was discussed at the September 1 port council meeting, which Mr. Pachico attended.
Mr. Lamson said that after hearing numerous comments over the past year about traffic congestion he sat down with the staff to look at ways the situation could be alleviated.
Mr. Lamson downplayed the effect on the proposed schedule changes on Tisbury businesses. He said that for the most part two boats would leave within a short time of each other, one destined for Oak Bluffs and the other for Tisbury, allowing passengers a choice. "I would think the selectmen would look at this as a positive, given their concerns with the traffic," he said. "We are only doing what we can do to spread out arrivals and departures as much as possible, so we don't have one boat unloading on top of another."
Mr. Lamson said his working relationship with the Tisbury selectmen remains good. He said changes to the Tisbury terminal, another source of complaints by selectmen, depend in part on what the town has planned and will allow the SSA to do in order to help ease the flow of vehicles and passengers. He said those changes would be discussed with Tisbury.
This week, Mr. Hanover said he is no longer going to personally respond to the complaints of the Tisbury selectmen. "They have made their choices, and I have to do what I think is best for the Steamship Authority and the Island," he said.
As an example of those choices, he cited the selectmen's decision not to use embarkation fee money to provide police to direct traffic on Water Street, a decision that he said had led to traffic backups that had adversely affected SSA customers and generated numerous complaints from the public.
Asked about his poor working relationship with the Tisbury selectmen, Mr. Hanover said he would continue to consider management recommendations but had no plans to meet with the selectmen. "I am just not going to continue to argue over the same issues," he said. "I have five port towns that get it and one that doesn't."
Mr. Hanover said management was reacting to customer complaints and the situation in Tisbury when it recommended changes in the boatline schedule. He said the proposed changes have nothing to do with his business.
Mr. Hanover said the real issue is that the SSA is not getting the service and cooperation it needs from Tisbury, and that one port is overwhelmed while the other is underutilized.
Mr. Hanover said the scheduling discussions have been going on for the last year, but he only recently heard from members of the business community that he might have a conflict. He said he would be happy to meet with the TBA, but at the same time, the Tisbury business community needs to become more involved. "Where have they been when these guys were talking about less boats, less trips, less cars," he said. "What do they think that translates into?"
He said the new ferry Island Home was designed with a larger capacity so that it could provide the same number of vehicles but with fewer trips. That boat is scheduled to be in service sometime next fall.
Mr. Hanover said he received a telephone call from one Tisbury businessperson telling him that some business people think he should not vote on the proposed schedule changes because he has a conflict. He described this view as "ignorant."
"My decision, whatever it may be, will be based on what is best for the Island, not what is best for Tisbury or Oak Bluffs," he said.
Insulting and baseless
Mr. Rappaport, who served as the Island's appointed SSA member for eight years, and Mr. Parker, who completed the last year of Mr. Rappaport's third term, are no strangers to the rough and tumble of SSA policy making and the demands of the job and the Island's ratepayers.
Mr. Rappaport this week said that while he did not know of any specific charges, any such accusations are an insult to Mr. Hanover and ridiculous. "Marc stands in no different position than any businessperson in Oak Bluffs or Tisbury, and certainly the county commissioners, in appointing a businessman from Oak Bluffs, took into consideration that any decisions he might make might have a general impact on all businesses in town," said Mr. Rappaport.
To violate the conflict of interest law a decision must have a specific impact on one's own business, not a general impact, said Mr. Rappaport, town counsel for Aquinnah, Chilmark and Edgartown. "I think it is unfortunate when allegations of conflict are thrown around," said Mr. Rappaport. "I think it is totally baseless and undeserved."
During Mr. Parker's brief term, he often clashed with the Tisbury selectmen over SSA policy, including his support for SSA-operated fast ferry passenger service from New Bedford as a means of attracting passengers without vehicles to the Island.
In a letter to the editor in this week's Times, Mr. Parker said, "The Island is fortunate to have an individual of Marc Hanover's proven business experience and integrity as its Steamship member. He must represent the entire Island and not just respond to the wants and worries of the current Tisbury selectmen, which seem to come and go like the tide - again and again and again."