Complex TTOR issue resists the quick take


To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that commentary regarding the TTOR staffing issues at Cape Poge has become personal and accusatory. See “Only One Side of the TTOR Story,” by Ron Dumorat, MV Times Letters, August 19, 2010.

The issues related to the resignation of David Babson as superintendent of the TTOR Cape Poge Reservation were described in both MV newspapers last week.

Threatened and endangered bird species were placed at risk from vehicular use of nesting habitat on Cape Poge during Mr. Babson’s tenure as superintendent.

Mr. Dumorat’s letter adds nothing to our common understanding of the situation because this is not an issue about personalities or perceived personal shortcomings — it is all about the nuts and bolts of decision-making, management and supervision.

Here are some ways that I would look at this situation, framed from the perspective of a fisherman and someone who spent a career in wild land management in both the public and private sector, with first hand experience working on Cape Poge.

The challenges involved in resolving conflicts between human use and preservation of natural resource values on any conservation property are considerable. Cape Poge involves complex circumstances and considerations that are particularly challenging.

CP is one of few over-sand vehicle recreation areas in the Eastern U.S. and one of the premier saltwater shore fishing locations in the country. At the same time the property is designated habitat for endangered and threatened bird species. This designation carries numerous, complex mandatory legal requirements for property managers. Decisions are subject to oversight from state and federal entities — each with its own enforcement protocols. It is also important to recognize that the original purpose for the Trustees to manage Cape Poge was for the protection of wildlife habitat.

To understand the stewardship of this property is to figure out how to identify and best meet the needs of all the diverse constituencies — including the birds. That includes the local community as well as the broader assemblage of people included in the community of interest, some of whom may never visit Cape Poge or any wild land. They might be birdwatchers or city dwellers. They may never tie a plug to a leader, dig for or eat a shellfish, or drive a vehicle on the beach. But by their contributions and membership in TTOR they are nonetheless stakeholders in all that happens on TTOR properties.

We fishermen may consider the birds a nuisance — which they clearly are when we are focused solely on getting to that part of the beach where the fish are breaking. But we have to understand that when it comes to making decisions about uses of the property, the over-arching consideration for the property manager must be the protection of these species. And we may think that somebody who never comes to Cape Poge should not have any say in how to run things, but that is how it works.

This is the context within which David Babson found himself when he came to his new job.

And these are the challenges that Chris Kennedy has faced successfully for over 20 years.

In his letter, Mr. Dumorat makes the allegation that Chris Kennedy “failed David Babson badly.” I would suspect that the reverse could be equally supportable if you are shooting from the hip as he appears to be doing.

Probably most of us who have worked in any business or organization can attest that forced resignation is usually the course of action of last resort. You can bet that the decision to accept Mr. Babson’s resignation was a difficult one for Chris Kennedy and TTOR. I am confident that they took into consideration that Mr. Babson is a personable and outgoing individual, and well liked by the local and fishing community. I am also confident that Chris Kennedy was sensitive to the human and family considerations that Mr. Dumorat mentions in his letter.

There is always plenty of outside speculation about the details of these matters. Rarely in my experience are these staff changes based on any one single factor, and typically nobody except the principals truly knows the full story. In any organization the details of personnel matters must remain confidential to protect employers and employees.

All sorts of questions arise — what performance specifications were outlined for Mr Babson; what performance counseling took place between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Babson; what level of understanding did Mr. Babson have regarding the guidelines for protection of nesting shore birds, etc.? Had he read the Property Management Plan for Cape Pogue? Why did he not consult within the organization before making decisions? What outside pressures were brought to bear on TTOR and Mr. Kennedy?

I believe the correct interpretation of Kennedy’s statement that “there is more than one side of a personnel issue” goes to the effect that the TTOR had accepted Babson’s resignation only after broad review of all the relevant circumstances.

I think the cynical tone of Mr. Dumorat’s letter — giving the impression that Chris Kennedy callously disposed of David Babson — simply does not square with Kennedy’s management style and the long term record of success he has had in providing leadership for the TTOR properties.

I think it is time to put this issue behind and to move on and support the TTOR and the excellent job they perform in managing island properties.

Michael Seeger