Chilmark voters cannot help but be surprised at the reaction from many of the most ardent and diligent supporters of affordable housing to the decision by town selectmen to restart the effort to build the Middle Line Road project. Allowing for their understandable disappointment, it is regrettable that some of the project's backers have attacked the selectmen, particularly Riggs Parker and Frank Fenner, for doing their jobs cautiously and responsibly on behalf of all the voters and taxpayers of Chilmark. Steve Schwab, a town housing committee member and its chairman for a time, in a particularly wrong-headed letter published this morning, forecasts rather hysterically, adducing no evidence to support his assertion, that there will be no affordable housing in Chilmark while Mr. Fenner and Mr. Parker are in office. That's nonsense.
The issues surrounding the response to the original request for proposals, that is, the issues that derailed the Island Housing Trust-South Mountain-Dukes County Regional Housing Authority bid, may very well be regarded as serious or trivial, depending on your point of view. But, any way you slice it, most of these questions appeared to resist conclusive resolutions, leaving the town in some doubt as to its future exposure, or at least in doubt as to how the troubling implications might be neutralized. And all of the issues need to be addressed somehow and settled before a responsible leader could sign contracts committing the town and its taxpayers to significant financial obligations. If that means rewriting the flawed request for proposals in search of a clean deal, then it makes sense to do so.
Chilmark voters have signaled their interest in affordable housing generally and the Middle Line Road project in particular. They have agreed to commit significant funds to the effort. They expect town officials to guide the project carefully and economically, having the larger interests of voters and taxpayers always in mind. The selectmen, acting as chief executives for the voters, acknowledge their responsibility to complete this work in a fashion that meets voters' expectations, while managing the risks associated with such an undertaking. Chilmarkers ought to be pleased by the reasonable approach taken by their elected leaders.
A bill now making its way through the state legislature would force the Steamship Authority and its unions to submit to binding arbitration, if negotiations between the boatline and an employee union are unsuccessful after five months of bargaining. This is an effort led by the union representing marine engineers and unlicensed vessel employees, with which the SSA has not come to terms, although negotiations with other SSA bargaining units have been successful.
Usually, arbitration is addressed in a labor contract, by agreement between the parties. If labor and management don't agree to arbitration, it doesn't happen. Arbitration is not available to the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, under the terms of its bargaining relationship with the SSA today, so the union is pressing sympathetic legislators to impose it.
It's a bad deal for the SSA and a very bad deal for Islanders and their guests, who foot the bill for ferry service. As Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, puts it, "Senate Bill No. 2459 would entirely deprive the Islands of their control over the most significant aspects of the Authority's operations and finances. The management and control of labor costs have the greatest impact on the Authority's rates and tariffs, which Island residents have no choice but to pay.... " Islanders will recognize the threat to economical ferry service that is represented by this legislation, which aims to end-run the normal collective bargaining relationship, and they will support the boatline's effort to defeat it.