Updated Jan. 8
The ship has sailed for Carl Walker, the Steamship Authority’s longtime director of maintenance and engineering. Walker’s position was eliminated in adherence to the spirit of the HMS report, according to Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s representative on the SSA board.
In a brief statement Friday night, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll wrote The Times that Walker is no longer an SSA employee, but gave no reason why.
“As of Friday, Jan, 3, 2020, Carl R. Walker is no longer employed as director of engineering and maintenance, or in any other capacity, by the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority,” Driscoll emailed. “As has been its practice in the past, the Authority will offer no further comment on this personnel matter.”
Driscoll said Monday that Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations, would be assuming Walker’s previous maintenance and engineering duties. He made it clear these duties would be in addition to the ones Amundsen already has.
On Tuesday, Hanover, who is the 2020 chair of the SSA board, said Walker’s position was cut based on recommendations made in the HMS report. “His position was eliminated as part of that process,” he said.
The HMS report, a top-to-bottom independent review of the SSA, came as a direct result of a whirlwind series of ferry cancellations and breakdowns in 2018. Walker’s departure comes after the SSA has experienced a recent spate of mechanical breakdowns that left some passengers stranded, though no one has connected his departure to those problems. On Dec. 23, the MV Katama lost its steering while underway, and then the boat that replaced it, the Gay Head, also suffered mechanical woes. Earlier in December, the MV Martha’s Vineyard suffered a short blackout. The week before that blackout, the vessel had a steering alarm glitch. Another problem with a steering alarm caused the SSA to pull the Martha’s Vineyard out of service Christmas Eve. On Dec. 18, the Martha’s Vineyard grazed a construction barge in Woods Hole; however, the incident was not attributed to mechanical failure, and the damage was reportedly limited to hull paint.
Hanover said dissolving Walker’s position is meant to better the SSA:. “We’re trying to make a stronger organization.”
Driscoll confirmed the SSA was trying to adhere to the HMS report in cutting Walker’s position. “One of the recommendations in the HMS report was a realignment of the chain of command …,” he wrote. “This was the result of that work.”
However, contrary to this reasoning, page 112 of the HMS report shows a recommended hierarchy chart where the director of engineering and maintenance is retained and exists on the same tier as the director of marine operations.
In a follow-up conversation, Hanover said in this instance, the SSA was following the HMS report thematically as opposed to specifically. He also said he hoped general manager Robert Davis will execute a flow chart to show the public what the current management structure looks like.
SSA general manager Robert Davis released a statement Wednesday that indicated Walker’s ouster was part and parcel of a management reorganization process.
“I strongly feel this change will not only begin the process of making the Authority’s organizational structure less ‘flat,’ as stated by HMS, but will also aid greatly in communication and operations, as the engineering staff and vessel staff will now all fall under the same command structure,” he wrote in part. “As was previously announced, former director of engineering and maintenance Carl R. Walker is no longer with the Authority following this restructuring, and I thank him for his years of service.”
Davis went on to indicate more changes may be coming. “I anticipate announcing further progress with the reorganization plan at your February meeting,” he wrote.
Asked if Walker was scapegoated for SSA travails past and present, Hanover said, “No. It’s not that.”
Walker joined the SSA in 1995, Driscoll said. At the time of his departure, his annual salary was just over $131,000.
Walker could not be immediately reached for comment.
Updated with information from SSA general manager Bob Davis.