County to send critical letter to legislators

Commissioners support Fernandes, Cyr, while panning their SSA bill 

County commissioners intend to express their criticism of SSA legislation through a letter. — Rich Saltzberg

On March 23, Dukes County commissioners continued to criticize Steamship Authority legislation put forth by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth. The legislation will impose term limits on the ferry line’s board, and establish a chief operating officer (COO) position. Fernandes previously indicated the COO portion would be dropped from the bill because the SSA opted to adopt the position.

Regardless, commissioners continued to be concerned about the term limit portion of the bill. However, what chiefly troubled the commissioners was the lack of process and public input ahead of the bill being filed. The commissioners voted to send the legislature’s joint transportation a letter outlining their concerns, but also expressing their continued support for Cyr and Fernandes.

SSA board member Jim Malkin, the Vineyard’s representative, told the commissioners his primary problem with the legislation was that it lacked public process and traditional process. 

“The process was nonexistent,” Malkin said.

Malkin told the commissioners Fernandes had informed him ahead of time of the legislation he was planning, but allegedly told Malkin to keep that information confidential. Malkin also said when Fernandes came before the commissioners the prior week, he opted not to interrogate Fernandes.

“I didn’t feel it appropriate to contradict or crossexamine our state representative, whom I personally support as a representative, and have in the past, and intend to continue,” Malkin said. “However I think this was a serious fall-down in public process when people are reached out to in a confidential, off-the-record basis, and that is then presented as reaching out to the community.”

Malkin went on to say, “Dylan mentioned, on the record, that I was the first person he reached out to. That may be so. And he asked me some questions in confidence and off the record, and when somebody asks me to take something in confidence and off the record, I do so. I did not share that with anyone. I assume he made the same request of others with whom he spoke, including a number who he spoke with the day before the legislation was filed. That is not public process.”

Malkin contended that because the SSA was a farebox ferry line paid for by Islanders, Islanders had a right to influence legislation concerning the SSA. He added that Nantucket has sent a letter that “urged the legislature to drop the bill.”

Similarly, Malkin said, the addition of a new seat to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission lacked proper process. 

“There was no public comment,” he said. “There was no public discussion. There was no public hearing. There was no input from the commission.”

At his office hours Friday at Oak Bluffs library, Fernandes declined to comment.

Oak Bluffs port council member Joe Sollitto said he remained “bothered” by the legislation, and told the commissioners the Oak Bluffs select board was left in the dark about it. 

Sollitto said if there are to be term limits on board members, they should be “imposed by the county commissioners, who are the appointing authority.”

He also said, “There should have been public hearings here on the Vineyard.”

Commissioner John Cahill, who also served as Tisbury’s port council member, spoke in his capacity as a commissioner, and advocated for the commissioners to write a letter outlining their views and gripes about the bill. He supported Sollitto’s suggestion for a hearing. 

Chair Christine Todd said she sent her own letter objecting to the process. 

Commissioner Keith Chatinover wasn’t as worked up over this issue as his fellow commissioners. “I am again going to agree-disagree with the folks on this call about the process,” Chatinover said. “I really, honestly … didn’t have a problem with the process. And as you all know, I’m a big transparency person. I talk about it all the time. It’s very important to me. I’m just like not convinced — let me put it this way: Could it have behooved our legislators to come to us and tell us about the bill … yes.”

Chatinover qualified that by saying he felt it was unrealistic for legislators to hold hearings in the Vineyard whenever they are ready to introduce a bill. 

“I don’t think that that public hearing was necessary,” he said. “Maybe because it’s just that I’m green and naive.”

Chatinover said, “That’s fine,” if the commissioners want to write a letter, but he wouldn’t support it. “I just don’t really have a huge problem with the way this was done,” he said. 

Commissioner Tristan Israel decried the lack of process. He also questioned the relevance of board member term limits to the 2018 ferry problems, which were the impetus of the legislation. 

He argued there wasn’t any relevance “unless you’re going to cast aspersions on Mr. Malikn’s predecessor, which I am certainly not. I didn’t always agree with Marc [Hanover], but he worked very hard, and I don’t think he had anything to do with what went on in … 2018.”

Israel described the legislation as “an erosion of the statutory powers that we have as county commissioners.”

Israel said the commissioners are accountable for what they do, and if the public doesn’t like the board member chosen by the commission, the public can vote the commission out of office. 

Israel said he was a supporter of Fernandes, but was disappointed in the rep when he came before the commission and didn’t offer any mea culpa or suggestion that something could have been done differently. 

Commissioner Don Leopold asked the commissioners their thoughts as to why the legislation happened the way it did. 

Todd said she had heard remarks that “Martha’s Vineyard is very difficult to deal with, having six towns and each one with their separate leadership, and trying to get everyone together and agree on a direction to take is extremely difficult. You know, I understand that. It’s a challenge for all of us. And yet, I don’t think the solution is to ignore it. It’s to work with it to the best of our ability, as openly and publicly as possible.”

Todd went on to say if that was indeed what was behind the lack of process, it didn’t jibe with Nantucket, the other Island served by the SSA, because they are a unified voice, being one island, county, and town. “Same exact approach was applied to them,” she said. 

Israel suggested there have been “a lot of loud voices in Falmouth,” and that’s a part of the district represented by both Fernandes and Cyr.

Cahill said the takeaway is the commission doesn’t want such a thing to happen again, and the letter should support that stance. 

Commissioner Peter Wharton said six or seven individuals were called, and those individuals had the opportunity to bring the matter forward, and didn’t. “We need to own that,” he said. “Each of us needs to own that.”

Cahill said most got calls on short notice, and the chair never got a phone call, even though it was suggested she be called. 

“I also told Dylan to call Christine,” Chatinover said. “I thought that would be best.”

Chatinover said Cyr and Fernandes are going to say, “It’s not worth our time,” and retract from being proactive when it comes to Island issues. “I think what’s going to happen is they’re just going to say, Screw ’em,” Chatinover said, and have constituents come to them, instead of being proactive on their accounts. 

“Keith, sometime over a bottle of wine, you and I should talk about the difference between autocracy and democracy, because I think that’s what we’re talking about here,” Malkin said.

“Amen,” Israel said.


  1. Keith Chatinover finally makes a good point. Yes you are green and naïve and hopefully voters will remember that for the next election.

  2. Talk about dramatic! Give us a break, Jim. Tristan, too. Keith was spot-on and Dylan did the right thing for his constituents. We are represented by him. What’s the real story? I’ll tell you: small island gov’t can’t get often-enough-failing essential transportation behemoth to make real changes, State Reps step in and say “cut the crap” and actually force movement. They are the adults in the room. Sadly, the commissioners have not held the SSA accountable and Jim Malkin has to some extent, but let’s all take it easy. Dylan and Julian needed to what they did because the MVC and Jim (although he did bring it up twice with the SSA board) brought stasis to the table. Tristan, I like you, man, but the point about voting people out goes for Dylan as much as you. For term limits? My understanding is that Malkin supports that, too. Autocracy? Comparing the situation to that weakens the argument for democracy, although it shows the free speech is alive. Mark Twain was credited as saying, “Better to be ridiculous and remain quiet, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I’ll stay with Twain, over here.

  3. Can a freight port that will raise our cost of living be far behind? Perhaps this is just the first step. The state should not allow tinkering with the enabling legislation without a public process. It’s wrong.
    What a shame, and how undemocratic, that our state representatives felt that it was acceptable to pull one over on the island citizens. It’s really dismaying to read that, in addition to our SSA rep, Mr. Malkin, all of our commissioners, with the exception of the chairman, Christine Todd, knew about this and kept quiet. We should not be voting for people who would skip the public process to make major changes at the SSA. Who knows what the motives are here?

  4. I agree with Keith Chatinover. It seems the County Commissioners are beating a dead horse here. They got their knickers in a twist, summoned Rep. Fernandes and voiced their consternation. To use the word “autocracy” in reference to the filing of this bill is simply ridiculous. No, it’s not “what we’re talking about here.”

  5. When are we going to realize we can survive without county government. Let’s start the process and eliminating waste in government. Most of the state has already done that we can follow. No one ever wants to give up their power and control. Years ago there was a whole explanation given how this could be accomplished and save the taxpayers money.

  6. It’s clear the county commissioners do not have enough to do or are not capable of prioritizing issues. Fernandez and Cyr did something beneficial for our community, cutting through red tape and all the commissioners have to say is they don’t want term limits imposed. Term limits in these positions will benefit our community.

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