The Steamship Authority board convened on the top floor of the New Bedford Whaling Museum Tuesday to address a number of issues, including changes to the Woods Hole terminal design, a performance review of general manager Robert Davis, the reinstatement of the 10-ride ferry pass, a consultant’s update without much new, and the overhaul of the MV Eagle.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell gave an address at the start of the meeting, where he spoke of the significance of wind-turbine staging slated for the New Bedford waterfront. He also expressed the city’s willingness to work with the Steamship Authority on freight route ideas.
Chris Iwerks of BIA Studio in Boston gave an update on plans for the new terminal in Woods Hole, which included a lot of windows as well as umbrellas to provide shade in the hotter months out on the adjacent plaza. Falmouth board member Elizabeth Gladfelter said a terminal building with so much glass may present maintenance problems.
“Are we intending to hire additional maintenance people to keep all that glass clean?” she asked.
Davis said the subject needs to be addressed, but did not elaborate on what that might entail.
On the recommendation of Mark Rozum, Steamship Authority operations manager, and the Port Council, the board entertained the proposal of reinstating the the 10-ride ferry pass card.
Davis said the pass was eliminated because of potential issues with the embarkation fees. Massachusetts Department of Revenue indicated they weren’t being collected in the 10-ride pass. Furthermore, Davis pointed to rider dissatisfaction. “We’ve had a number of concerns from our customers,” he said.
Davis pitched the idea of adding $5 to the cost of 10-ride passes to cover statutory embarkation fee issues, and more controversially, to limit the sale of the 10-ride passes to Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and Nantucket. Davis said this was to benefit residents of the two islands and “commuters.” He also said tourist families who buy the passes and use them all at once are “undermining cost structure” since they are designed for a single rider using the passes incrementally.
Gladfelter and Hyannis representative Robert Jones had no taste for excluding their communities from 10-ride pass sales.
Jones asked how the limitation would benefit those who commute from Hyannis. Gladfelter said much the same, and requested the ports of Hyannis and Woods Hole be able to sell the passes. She pointed out other groups, like museum travelers, also use the passes. Davis suggested those groups contact the Steamship Authority group sales office.
Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s board representative, said he didn’t see an issue with limiting the sales to the islands. Gladfelter said the idea was tantamount to “discriminating against mainland communities.”
Hanover countered it was not discrimination but “making people pay their fair share.”
Gladfelter said scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and elsewhere have active projects on the Vineyard and Nantucket, and travel there with their graduate students, and those passes can facilitate that travel.
“This should be equitable on both sides of the pond,” Jones said.
The board voted to table the issue and send it back to management for further consideration.
The board voted unanimously to approve a $1,637,917 contract to overhaul the MV Eagle, a ferry practically exclusive to Nantucket, at Thames Shipyard and Repair Co. in New London. Conn. Of proposals sent to eight shipyards, only “one responsive bid was received,” a staff summary states.
Davis received performance review marks in the 90th percentile across the board from Jones, Gladfelter, Hanover, and chairman Robert Rainey.
Jones said Davis did a “spectacular job.”
“I shudder to think what would have happened if the authority had not hired from within,” he added.
Gladfelder noted Davis managed “a lot on his plate,” and did an “admirable job” in a “perfect storm” of circumstances this spring.
New Bedford representative Moira Tierney, while complimentary in areas, was not completely gushy about Davis’ work.
She gave Davis an overall 80 percent grade, and remarked that it was “a pretty good grade for your first year as general manager.” While she noted Davis had a sterling reputation with employees, so much so that she could not find anyone in the Steamship Authority who had a gripe with him whatsoever, she felt stonewalled by him this spring when ferry issues became a fiasco.
“I was a little concerned that when Marc and I presented our concern that we should hire a crisis manager at the very beginning of the problems that we had, you were not open to that suggestion,” she said. She described it as a “struggle with the old ways — the culture of the Steamship Authority.” Tierney also said Davis would do well to facilitate better “interchange” between the board and management, and needed to show a “willingness” to receive suggestions from board members. She decried the “same old business as usual” mentality, and emphasized times have changed and management needed to change with them.
With a bit of levity, Tierney said Davis was “magnificent” at many aspects of his work but she didn’t believe anyone should be rated at 97 percent the first year on the job unless he is “Jesus Christ.”
Admitting the idea was not on the agenda, Tierney suggested outside counsel might be needed to help the board function and communicate better, given the Steamship Authority general counsel seems to serve management and because of constraints open-meeting law places on board member interaction.
The Times asked the board members if they intended to invite a representative of Senesco Marine to an upcoming board meeting to discuss the more than $18 million midlife refurbishment of the MV Martha’s Vineyard.
Tierney said the subject was probably reserved for executive session, and that the subject was “kind of premature.”
“The answer is no, at this point,” Gladfelter said.
“We could compromise our position, perhaps,” Tierney said.
The board, managers, and audience gave Phil Parent, long-serving human resources director of the Steamship Authority, a standing ovation as Davis announced his retirement.
Soon after, the board voted to enter executive session to discuss acquisition of real estate, collective bargaining, and ongoing contractual negotiations with Senesco Marine.