Dukes County commissioners interviewed the remaining candidate for the Steamship Authority Wednesday afternoon. Jacqueline Noel is the 10th person seeking to occupy the seat Marc Hanover plans to relinquish at the conclusion of the SSA board meeting on Feb. 18. County commissioners interviewed the other nine candidates for the seat on Feb. 5. The commissioners will vote to fill the seat on March 4. Whoever they appoint will automatically become chairman based on a preset port cycle that rotated to the Vineyard for 2020.
Noel, a public transit consultant who has lived on the Vineyard for about 15 years, told the commissioners she has done significant consulting work for Vineyard Transit Authority. She said public transit is her “passion” and that customer service is her “bailiwick.” She pointed out she worked on a customer service training program that is used in many transit systems across the country.
“I feel that my participation on the board would not only help the board and the SSA understand the customer a little bit better, but also, very importantly, what I think can be lacking on the Island, is the information that the public needs to understand the SSA,” she said. “You know, every time there’s a breakdown, everytime something has gone awry, I feel that the SSA needs to be outfront with the information, explaining why it happened…and actually be ahead of it before it happens.”
Noel noted the SSA sometimes gets thrown under the bus unfairly by online commenters.
“I sit and watch the social media feed every time there’s a problem with the SSA and I bite my tongue and every now and then I join in to explain that we’re in a unique situation,” she said. “We have a small fleet. And this isn’t easy. And all the money that you think that people are putting in their pockets and going home is not the case.”
Asked by commissioner Christine Todd what she thought the SSA could do to become greener and to adapt to climate change, Noel said proceed cautiously with new technology. New, eco-friendly technology that’s unproven constitutes a gamble, she said. For a relatively small transit system like the SSA to adopt something before the kinks have been worked out could prove costly. Larger transit systems are generally the ones that can invest in such things because they have deeper pockets, she said.
Asked by commissioner John Alley how she would deal with, and explain clearly to the public, the SSA debt situation, Noel said she would need to educate herself on what that debt is first off.
“If we waited until we had profits to improve our fleet, improve our terminals, improve our service…we would never get anywhere,” she said.
Commissioner Leon Brathwaite, who is a candidate for the board seat, recused himself from the interview process and exited the room while it took place.
Later in the meeting, the commissioners debated what voting formula they would employ to appoint the next Vineyard board member to the SSA.
Commissioner Keith Chatinover, who participated via an audio-visual link, advocated for a ranked choice vote. Among other advantages, he said this type of voting would prevent a count as low as two votes from being sufficient to win the appointment — a possibility because commissioner Gretcher Tucker Underwood is on medical leave and Brathwaite has recused himself from voting. Chairman Tristan Israel and Todd were against the idea and pushed for a straight majority vote. The commissioners settled on the ground rules being whoever gets a three vote majority wins. The vote was 4-1 with Chatinover the dissenting vote.