Updated May 13
Newly installed Steamship Authority board chair Jim Malkin took broadsides from fellow board members over comments he made to Dukes County commissioners about their stances on the Oak Bluffs terminal repairs and his views on ferry line financials, among other subjects.
During a Tuesday morning meeting, the board also voted unanimously to award Coastal Marine Constructions of Canton, the lowest of three bidders, a $267,524 contract to make repairs to the drive-on pier at the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal. During a meeting Tuesday evening, Oak Bluffs selectmen expressed their support for Malkin and encouraged him to keep being inquisitive.
At the SSA meeting, Malkin was hit with criticism from the very start of the meeting. Nantucket board member Rob Ranney read a written statement.
“In recent years both Islands have enjoyed a solid working relationship on the board, sharing similar interests and concerns, working together with a common understanding of purpose to better the SSA to the benefit of our constituencies. The board, SSA management, and indeed all SSA employees work hard, often going unnoticed and unappreciated, but dedicated nonetheless to serving the Islands in the face of constant public criticism. Board members walk a fine line between pursuing their port communities’ interests in policy making and working diplomatically with the other board members and their fiduciary obligation to those port communities by keeping a watchful eye on SSA finances as we are all ultimately responsible to our appointing authorities and the very people we represent.”
Ranney went on to say he was “shocked and offended” to read Malkin’s comments to Dukes County commissioners in a Martha’s Vineyard Times article. He said upon reading the article, he questioned “whether the working camaraderie that the two Island enjoy together was in jeopardy.” Ranney said he hoped Malkin was misquoted or had comments taken out of context.
Ranney said in all the years of scrutiny he’s applied to ferry line finances, he’s never unearthed anything but staffers “unrelenting dedication to follow the board’s direction and then to go above and beyond.”
Ranney said the performance of SSA management was exemplary and “hardly cause for alarm or for fomenting negative press.”
Ranney went on to say the board had been “maligned.”
New Bedford board member Moira Tierney was far less reserved than Ranney, castigating Malkin for roughly 14 straight minutes. Tierney took issue with Malkin’s prior comments on her’s and Falmouth board member Kathryn Wilson’s positions on the repair of the Oak Bluffs terminal, the utility of that terminal, and how they voted on issues regarding that terminal. She was dissatisfied with a correction he made to an erroneous comment he made to the county commissioners and openly incensed at his questioning of management and ferry line audited financials.
“It’s really unfortunate that an inexperienced board member’s reckless and misinformed comments have created unnecessary controversy and suspicion about the Steamship Authority at a time when we are all working our hardest to share this terrible financial drain and continue to provide service to the Islands,” she said.
She went on to say she had the “utmost trust and confidence in the information that our management provides to us,” she said.
Wilson said she agreed with the criticisms Ranney and Tierney directed at Malkin.
“Representing how I voted, which was contrary to how I actually voted, was very troubling,” she said.
Malkin was contrite after the rebuke ended.
“I want to first of all publicly apologize to Ms.Tierney and Ms. Wilson for misstating on the record things that they’d said on the record. And that was an error of mine. Secondly I hear very loud and clear what’s been said by the board members. I accept the constructive criticism and I recognize that we do have to work as a board, and we do have to support the Steamship Authority through this unprecedented time.”
He went on to say he told general manager Robert Davis and treasurer Mark Rozum “that at no time did I intend to suggest that things were hidden. The concern I have with audited statements has to do with my concern about our cash position, and our need for more revenues.”
He closed saying he appreciated “the schooling” and looked forward to working constructively with the board and management.
When later asked for comment about the criticism leveled at Malkin, Dukes County commissioner Keith Chatinover wrote, “I can’t speak for the entire commission, but Jim certainly has my full and strong support. It is clear that he is doing the job of representing our community’s interests and looking out for our Island.”
Dukes County Commission chair Tristian Israel, who only heard a portion of the meeting, later said of Malkin’s last report to the commissioners. “I think he was being refreshingly candid when he was talking to us. People don’t like that.”
In the wake of Malkin’s censure, Oak Bluffs selectman Michael Santoro said the board was there to assist Malkin whenever he needed.
Chairman Brian Packish interpreted the chiding Malkin took earlier in the day as potential progress.
“If everybody is sitting comfortably and they’re in complete agreement with you over there at that [Steamship Authority board] then I’m concerned you’re not working hard enough. If you’ve managed to ruffle a few feathers then quite honestly, I say keep doing it,” Packish said. “Obviously you have to have a working relationship, but people grow in discomfort not in comfort and they’ve been comfortable over there for too long.”
Malkin, who participated in the selectmen’s meeting, characterized the earlier SSA meeting as “instructive.”
During his report about the successful bid, Davis took repeated questions from Tierney, who wanted to make sure the contract with Coastal Marine Construction doesn’t permit excessive change orders. Asked by Wilson if the company has worked with the SSA before, Davis said yes.
“Actually I believe they previously they were involved under a different name, I understand, in the reconstruction of that pier back in the late 2000’s.”
The board went into executive session at the close of the meeting to discuss possible litigation with Senesco Marine over drydock work slated for the MV Katama.
Reporter Brian Dowd contributed to this story.