Dismayed by SSA process

To the Editor:

This is in response to The MV Times editorial of Feb. 6, “Meetings are for public business.” Your comments regarding poor public process and an apparent disregard for the voters and taxpayers go to the heart of much of the public’s dissatisfaction with current leadership all around the Island. I recently attended the county commissioners’ interviews for the Steamship Authority board. While I certainly saw no impropriety — Leon Brathwaite recused himself entirely, leaving the room — I also saw a distinct lack of thoroughness. 

The Steamship board member is perhaps one of the most important appointments made anywhere on the Island. We have one representative on a board that governs our “lifeline” to the world. Even more to the point, that position carries a 35 percent vote which, together with our Nantucket counterpart, can make an entire difference in how the SSA operates — something I think the vast majority of us here know is required right now. 

Yet despite the critical nature of the job at this moment in time, the county commissioners seem to be moving the process at breakneck speed. In the course of nine interviews over three hours, there was no real opportunity to dig in and get to the heart of any individual’s capabilities and perspectives. Softball questions such as “What is your vision for the future of the Steamship Authority?” all but ignore the crises we faced in 2018, and the constant barrage of headaches more recently. 

I saw several candidates who appear to be qualified. After some very well-thought-out presentations, commissioners asked the same three questions of each, with a few follow-ups. There was virtually no effort to unearth who might have the best skills — those that will be necessary to negotiate the significant changes most of us feel we need. Therefore, I assumed that the field would be narrowed, and in-depth interviews would take place at a future meeting. I was dismayed when the chair, in reviewing next steps, said they’d be voting on March 4, “if all goes well.” No mention of follow-up, or even internal deliberation. When I asked about that, the response was a terse “We’ll deliberate and vote on March 4.”

After the meeting closed, I approached the chair and asked specifically if the candidates will be sorted down to a final two or three who will then be reviewed in depth. The response was effectively “We’ll see.” That’s not good enough. At this critical time, with so many problems on the Vineyard route, and the SSA budget apparently in turmoil, we need an SSA board member with the kind of experience, skill, and courage to take the reins, work closely with his or her colleagues, and demand effective change — or make the necessary managerial adjustments to accomplish the necessary transformation. Those kinds of skills are not properly assessed in a 15- or 20-minute discussion, or in perusing a résumé. And whoever is selected must be able and willing to devote real time. The SSA is a complex organization that will take the most qualified appointee time to figure out. Information needs to be gathered, and alliances developed. A day or two a month won’t serve the Vineyard’s interests. 

It behooves the commissioners to take the time to select the best applicant. Thankfully there is more than one choice. I have sent a copy of this to all of the commissioners. I urge them to make the time to do a thorough job in selecting one of the most critical positions representing us. 

Doug Ruskin
West Tisbury