Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s representative on the Steamship Authority board, came before the Dukes County commissioners late Wednesday afternoon to brief them on the independent consultant’s report, released last month. The commission also welcomed newly elected commissioners John Cahill of Tisbury and Keith Chatinover of Edgartown, and voted in Gretchen Tucker Underwood as chairman and Tristan Israel as vice chairman.
Hanover said the report, while critical, didn’t rise to “scathing.”
“Although the [Boston] Globe called it scathing, and then retracted the scathing, it was not that bad,” he said. He told the commissioners the report revealed both good and bad things about the SSA overall.
“In asking for what is wrong with the Steamship Authority, of course you’re going to get a negative report,” he said. “But in fact it actually found some very positive things, namely the employees and their dedication, and the reliability of the boats. The report basically said that they think we’ve been very fortunate that we have not had more experiences like last March and April. And they have made some large recommendations.”
He pointed out Vineyard runs after the spring quagmire were strong: “The fact is the Steamship Authority has been running reliably, if not better than it ever has, through the summer. Out of 7,026 trips, 10 were missed for mechanical reasons, which is what, 1½ percent?”
Hanover was not onboard with all HMS’s staff suggestions: “They feel we need to hire nine more mid-management people, which I do not agree with, but we definitely need more staff.”
He went on to say he supported two higher-level management positions, essentially surf and turf executives — a director of marine operations and a director of shoreside operations who would work just under the general manager.
Chatinover asked why he didn’t support the nine hires.
Hanover said he did not agree with an additional port captain — two port captains, one for the Vineyard and one for Nantucket, is “overkill.”
He did not elaborate on other positions recommended by HMS, but expressed worry about current positions that are vacant. “I’m concerned about the situation at the Steamship Authority right now,” he said. “Although it’s running, and running reliably, we do not have a treasurer, we do not have a [human resources] person, we do not have a port captain.”
He told the commissioners the last port captain retired early, and the treasurer told the SSA well in advance he needed to leave due to a family emergency. He did not speak with any detail about the HR manager.
“So there’s a real staff shortage over there right now, and it’s getting a little frustrating with the glacial pace that’s being taken to replace these people,” he said. “And I’m concerned whether management can handle this, considering the lead time to hire somebody and train them …”
Underwood pointed out the report suggested the SSA seek external talent, and asked if the SSA has looked outside itself to fill the three vacant positions.
“Absolutely,” Hanover said. “They’re in the process of retaining some headhunters to find the right people. But again, my concern is, How long does that take?”
After the meeting, Hanover told The Times one reason he is hesitant to endorse all nine positions advocated for by HMS is because many involve engineering, and that’s a subject he is not well versed in. “I’ve always been focused on customer service and the experience people are having,” he said. However, he did say he supported creating the position of director of health, safety, quality, and the environment, as outlined by HMS. “I think it’s a wise investment,” he said.
Roundtable discussions planned
Hanover told the commissioners the board planned to have roundtable discussions about the HMS report. The discussions would be open to the public, but not open to public questions.
Commissioner Israel took issue with roundtable discussions occurring before the Vineyard got its own presentation on the HMS report, like what happened at Falmouth High School, and asked that a presentation be held on-Island.
Hanover said he was working to get the slide show from the Falmouth High School presentation available for Islanders. He told Israel he would act on his request.
Commissioner Christine Todd asked whether there would be more public participation and input going forward, and how that might happen.
Hanover pointed out the communications portion of the HMS report, which addresses those issues, has yet to be delivered. “Our chairman this previous year was not open to a lot of inter-reaction,” he added. “I think our new chairman will be.”
Hanover went on to say he did not agree with how some communications issues were handled in some 2018 board meetings.
When Chairman Underwood opened up the meeting to questions from the audience and the press, The Times asked if the commissioners had an opinion about the May 5 blackout of the MV Martha’s Vineyard, when the ferry came dangerously close to Red Ledge in Woods Hole.
Underwood said she believed situations such as that might be avoided going forward if the SSA adopted many of the recommendations in the report.
Todd said she was concerned the calamities the SSA suffered early in 2018 haven’t translated into “front-burner items” after the report was delivered.
“It seems to me that there’s not an extremely urgent atmosphere at the Steamship Authority to really tackle this and get on it immediately to prevent a Cinco de Mayo blackout from happening again,” she said. “You know, I’m not hearing, you know, ‘We’re all over this.’”
Commissioner Leon Brathwaite pointed to the analysis in the HMS report concerning the St. Patrick’s Day evening blackout of the the Martha’s Vineyard following a fire, and said it enumerated many maintenance issues. “I would hope those things are being addressed … so we don’t have a recurrence of that kind of thing,” he said.
“This has been a real eye opener, the report, I assure you,” Hanover said. “They are taking it seriously. I’m just concerned about management structure, more so than engineering. The boats have never run better, and they’re safe. There’s no question about that. I’m just concerned about the top-level management.”
“Is there some way we could publish what types of training have already been put in place?” Cahill asked. “Because then that would be a positive thing to say: Since these events, this is the type of management training, engineering training, mechanical training that has occured.” Cahill went on to say such information would hedge against “one of the biggest concerns that people have — doubt.”
Hanover promised to provide that information to the commission by the next meeting.
Underwood lauded Todd for lobbying to have Narcan on SSA vessels, and asked if the medication was instrumental in saving a life recently on a ferry. Hanover said it was. Todd said she hoped the VTA will begin to stock Narcan on its buses.
Brathwaite redirected discourse to the Woods Hole project.
“Where is the canopy, and why isn’t it up?” he asked, noting people have been standing in the rain waiting for ferries in Woods Hole.
“I will find out,” Hanover said.
Hanover later told The Times that SSA general manager Robert Davis told him the canopy was going up Monday, and all temporary shelter work would be done by Wednesday. The SSA had hoped to have the canopy installed by Christmas, after an even more temporary tent was taken down.