Dukes County commissioners have selected James Malkin, a Chilmark selectman, to represent the Island on the Steamship Authority board.
In a 5-0 vote on Wednesday afternoon, the board selected Malkin to replace Marc Hanover, the longtime representative who stepped down. Hanover left the board despite being its chairman, and Malkin will take over the reins of the panel.
“I now have a very big target on my back and on my front,” Malkin said. “I know that. To the extent the abilities I have can help make a more effective, reliable, and consistent transportation service for the people of this Island — that’s what I intend to do and work toward. I appreciate your support.”
Commissioners had robust interest in the position. There were 10 applicants from varying backgrounds, and all of them were interviewed by commissioners — nine of them in a marathon three-hour-plus session and a 10th candidate who was interviewed separately.
While the position is unpaid, it does come with perks. According to the SSA, those perks are commensurate with SSA employee travel and parking benefits. Board members travel on SSA vessels for free, as do their spouses and children. If a person is on the board for three years or more, that benefit becomes permanent. The only exception is the Iyanough, the fast ferry that travels between Hyannis and Nantucket. Board members must pay half the passenger fare for that ferry. For reservation or standby vehicle passage, board members receive half off the excursion rate, as do their spouses. Whenever a board member is traveling for SSA business, vehicle passage is free. Board members enjoy free parking at the SSA’s Palmer lot for the duration of their time on the board.
The issue came up when one of the candidates, Leon Brathwaite, a county commissioner, said he had been cleared by the state Ethics Commission to sit in on interviews and potentially vote for himself. Brathwaite, ultimately, decided to recuse himself from the vote.
Malkin joins the board at a time when the SSA is attempting to right the ship, particularly with Islanders who feel like their voices are not being heard at the headquarters in Falmouth. The board is working with the administration to implement recommendations made by an independent consultant as a result of a string of ferry failures in the spring of 2018.
The ferry line is also dealing with mounting debt as a result of its Woods Hole terminal project. That project is over budget, and still has several years of construction ahead. The SSA has faced backlash from Woods Hole residents over the design of the terminal, as well as noise from early freight runs.