Marc Hanover, the Steamship Authority’s Vineyard board member, came before the Dukes County commissioners Wednesday evening to report on progress at the Steamship Authority.
Hanover told the commissioners that HMS Consulting and Technical, the consultant recently retained by the Steamship Authority board to examine the ferry service and make recommendations, completed its initial assessment last week. He described the firm’s work as a “complete overview of management, maintenance, operations, communications, and IT,” and said they’ve interviewed a lot of personnel already.
Elizabeth Gladfelder, Falmouth’s representative on the Steamship Authority board, later told The Times, “They’ve interviewed somewhere close to a hundred people at this point.”
In a company-wide memo, Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis wrote, “Based on the extremely positive feedback I have already received from many of you about your interactions with the consultants, I feel strongly that our operations and our relationships with each other will greatly benefit from this review. I also believe that we should consider periodically repeating the experience, both with our own staff members and outside experts, of holding conversations with our employees, passengers, and leadership to help us continue to improve our operations.”
In a letter to recently retired Steamship Authority general counsel Steven Sayers, John Sainsbury, president of HMS Consulting and Technical, wrote, “Everyone we met with was welcoming, forthcoming, and demonstrated a desire to participate in order to improve the SSA.”
Sainsbury went on to write, “We also recognize that some staff may have felt that they were taking a risk by talking to us. We want to especially thank those staff members for trusting and assisting us. We want to reassure everyone that the conversations we had were strictly confidential, and any of their responses that are directly or indirectly cited in our report will remain anonymous.”
“They rode all the boats, as far as I know,” Hanover told the commissioners.
Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll later clarified that the consulting team, which consisted of six people, went to all ports and visited all routes, plus took a trip to the Fairhaven maintenance facility, but they rode on only five of the 10 ferries in the fleet.
Hanover told the commissioners HMS Consulting and Technical will be coming back again shortly.
“They have a couple more interviews that they’re scheduled to do over the next few weeks,” Gladfelder later said.
Hanover said he was pleased with the questions the HMS Consulting and Technical team has been asking. “I like the direction they’re going in. And they seem to be doing a thorough job, which is crucial,” he said.
Hanover took a moment to recognize the commissioners for their backing when the notion of hiring a consultant looked like it might be killed off in its infancy. “I want to thank this board for your support,” he said. “As you know, my own board voted against me as far as going ahead with this whole consultant business.” Hanover pointed to the outpouring of support at the Steamship Authority board meeting at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center as the watershed moment for securing a consultant.
He later told The Times he met with Sainsbury and his team in the offices above the Vineyard Haven terminal on Tuesday and Wednesday. He concluded more Steamship Authority personnel needed to be heard than the interviews would permit, he said. In light of that, he plans to recommend to Davis that personnel be allowed to mail in suggestions to Sainsbury.
Commissioner Tristan Israel reminded Hanover that when he came before the board around the time former Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson announced his retirement, he advocated for keeping the selection process of the next manager in-house, while Israel suggested a wider net needed to be cast in order to facilitate an influx of fresh ideas.
“Mr. Davis has been nice; he’s learning; he’s a great guy,” Israel said. “This is not anything to cast any aspersions on Mr. Davis, but it seems to me that maybe some of this, as far as looking for new ideas — this consultant thing that we’re now doing — some of that might have been avoided had there been more of a search outside.”
“I feel the events that happened would have happened no matter who was general manager,” Hanover said. “I think there were issues that were ingrained in the company that have been festering for a long time, and they manifested themselves this past spring.”
Commissioner Leon Braithwaite asked how bus service between the Palmer lot and the Woods Hole terminal could be improved, in light of recent complaints.
Hanover said Steamship Authority management is keen on creating an operations center which would keep track of ferries and buses, and direct and redirect them as need be. “We’re actually waiting to implement it,” he said.
He later told The Times major changes like the operations center aren’t likely to be implemented until mid-October, after the consultant’s report is in.
“They may say they don’t think the operation center is a good idea, and the board may feel differently,” he later said. In such a case, the board might move ahead with the operations center, he added. “I think it’s an excellent idea,” he told The Times. “I think it would alleviate enormous communication issues.”
“[The] problem now is you’ve got a fleet of 10 boats that are on heavy, heavy schedules — seven and eight runs a day — and any issue gets magnified,” he told the commissioners. “When would a boat missing two runs make the Boston Globe? These boats are going to have issues, but it gets so magnified in the press now; it’s just a little out of control, and the only way to address that is through consistency, running in a timely fashion, and being reliable.”
As to the consultant, he said, “We expect a rough draft probably in about eight weeks, and the final draft in about 10 weeks — of their findings … I feel like we’re on the right track, I really do.”