SSA delves into its mission statement

Public opinion sought in campaign to define the essence of the ferry line.

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The SSA is seeking to draft a concise mission statement for itself. — Rich Saltzberg

The Steamship Authority is attempting to clarify its mission statement after the HMS report characterized it as inconsistent, poorly advertised, and lacking “an inspiring direction.” 

In order to garner public input for its mission statement, the SSA recently held separate Martha’s Vineyard, Falmouth, Hyannis, and Nantucket community forums. In March, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said he expected “copious public input” to inform the mission statement drafting process. However, copiousness hasn’t been reflected in the turnout at the forums or in the number of comment forms sent back to the SSA. 

Driscoll estimated only about 10 people showed for each of the forums, including on the Vineyard, where the population tops 16,000. 

Approximately six people who identified themselves as Vineyarders emailed the SSA to comment on the mission statement, according to Driscoll. Several other comments received lacked any description of where the commenter was from. A “few” comment cards were handed in at the Vineyard forum, Driscoll noted. 

The SSA is using a 1997 incarnation of its mission statement, a “vision” penned by former general manager Armand Tiberio, as a working template. The vision statement was previously brought to light by The Times in March when it asked the ferry line to produce its mission statement. That vision statement reads, “The vision of the Steamship Authority is to provide excellent customer services through a safe, convenient and efficient transportation system while responding to changing needs and market demands as well as community concerns within a work environment that promotes quality performance and recognition of our employees.” 

At the forums and online, the SSA described Tiberio’s statement as circa 1994. On Wednesday morning the online dating of the statement was changed to 1997 after The Times inquired about it. 

As The Times reported in March, Driscoll said, “We readily admit we don’t have a working mission statement right now.” 

HMS wrote in its report that “[a] well-crafted, advertised, and frequently revisited mission statement that provides a common goal, combined with measurable performance objectives, provides numerous benefits to any organization.”

In Tisbury, the modest number of people who gathered to talk about what the mission statement should contain was comprised mainly of local government officials, including Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner and Dukes County Commissioner Leon Brathwaite. One former SSA captain was present, David Dandridge. “It mustn’t have a lot of words,” Dandridge said. He advised the SSA to stay focused and not to “get caught up in the minutiae” when forging the statement.

Asked by The Times if comments from Vineyarders and Nantucketers would receive greater weight in the statement development process, similar to how Vineyard SSA board member Marc Hanover and Nantucket SSA board member Robert Ranney have greater voting power on the board, Driscoll, who is project manager for the mission statement, said no. 

Martha’s Vineyard Museum research librarian Bow Van Riper put the mission of the SSA in an economic context based on its history. In 1930, a predecessor of the SSA, the New England Steamship Co., operated 129 ships, he wrote in an email, “but in 1945 they were down to just two: the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. They were sold to the Massachusetts Steamship Line (MSL) at the end of December 1945, and the MSL took over the Island service on March 1, 1946. Within a year they, too, were struggling financially, and the state stepped into establish the (first) Steamship Authority in 1948 … basically buying out the MSL’s facilities and equipment.” 

Van Riper wrote the SSA was created in 1948 “out of a genuine concern that no commercial operation could make the Island runs pay, especially in winter, and that there was a very real chance of service being suspended completely, cut to the point where food supplies on the Islands would be compromised, or priced at a level that Islanders couldn’t afford. Like FDR’s rural electrification program — which bankrolled expensive power-grid infrastructure in the unprofitable (because sparsely populated) hinterlands — the state-run SSA monopoly was (at least initially) designed to ensure that the public’s vital interests were served regardless of whether it was profitable to do so.”