SSA board extols Davis, renews contract

On Friday, Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis, shown here at a past event in Vineyard Haven, got an 11.8 percent raise as part of a three-year contract. — MV Times

Updated 2:37pm

At a special Friday morning meeting, the Steamship Authority board gave high marks to general manager Robert Davis as part of his annual review, and later, in executive session, bumped his salary from $185,640 to $207,500 as part of a new three-year contract. The new salary amounts to a 11.8 percent increase.

During the review, Barnstable board member Robert Jones and New Bedford board member Moira Tierney were especially gushing in their praise of Davis. Tierney characterized Davis’ “homegrown” skills in crisis management, conflict resolution, and buoying employee morale as “outstanding.”

Tierney gave Davis a 95 out of 100. Jones recalled several notable points in Davis’ tenure at the ferry line, including a number of crises, and said he performed his job well under adversity and kept the books balanced. Jones said perhaps Davis goes home and kicks the kitchen cabinets, but he doesn’t let it show. He gave Davis a 92. 

In contrast to Jim Malkin, who suggested Davis needed to delegate more, Nantucket board member Robert Ranney characterized Davis’ hands-on approach as a value-added element that has served his island well. Ranney gave Davis a 96. Malkin wanted to see the SSA, as seen through the lens of the general manager, communicate better. Malkin gave Davis a 90.

The least effusive of the board members was Falmouth member Peter Jeffrey. Jeffrey said while he was “quite impressed” with Davis’ institutional knowledge, he criticized Davis (and the board) for failing to implement a strategic plan four years after the HMS report recommended one. “You take on too much,” Jeffrey said, and suggested a chief operating officer would help the ferry line perform “more strategically.” It took legislation filed by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, to get the ball rolling on advertising for a COO. Jeffrey gave Davis an 85. 

In brief remarks after the evaluation, Davis attributed the success of the ferry line to the hard work of its employees. After the evaluation, the board went into executive session and then emerged into open session again. Tierney said after “very vigorous” debate, a contract agreement was struck. General counsel Terence Kenneally said the contract includes bonus opportunities for Davis upon satisfactory completion of the Woods Hole terminal, the vessel replacement program, the SSA website, and other “milestones.” The compensation value of the bonuses wasn’t provided. The SSA has a salary range for the general manager’s position and Davis’s salary is at the midrange, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll later said. In two previous years, Davis declined to take raises, Driscoll said.

Updated with additional information. 




  1. Incompetence pays! I would love to know what dirt he has on the board because that’s the only possible explanation for his continued employment.

  2. It’s a tossup whether to laugh or cry. Yet another example of a board captured by their employee. At least Malkin and Jeffrey indicated their disapproval, however mild, without creating a political upheaval on the board. Perhaps widespread criticism of the SSA from its users and neighbors is a constant no matter who runs it or how it’s run, but the organization always seems to be a day late and dollar short. For example, without even mentioning the problems getting reservations, having its entire freight boat fleet approaching obsolescence with no plan in place to renew it, no plan to introduce fast-ferry service for day-workers, or a transition to electric boats, or a solution to relieve the traffic pressure on the Woods Hole Road, it doesn’t seem the SSA is in any way getting ready for the future. And if these issues are not the responsibility of the CEO to address then who is responsible? Oh, maybe even the Board of Governors. It just seems the status quo is very much yesterday. Who’s responsible for tomorrow?

    • It seemed to run just fine when Wayne Lamson was in charge, it has been on a downward spiral since Mr Davis has been running it. It gets worse every year and every failure never seems to be their fault. It’s an absolute joke.

    • That, I imagine, would depend on what replaced it.

      If it was dissolved and replaced by a similar quasi-governmental monopoly, operating under new enabling legislation that set new conditions for it (as happened in 1960, when the original SSA — crippled by a requirement that provide financially unsustainable year-round freight service from New Bedford to the islands), then everything would depend on the specific new conditions.

      If the new conditions included mandates for any or all of the projects often cited in these discussion threads as desirable — electric-drive boats built to a standard design, a year-round fast-ferry service for workers (with the new equipment and port facilities that would entail), and the establishment of New Bedford as a year-round freight port — and *didn’t* include a hefty subsidy from the Commonwealth (a first in the nearly 75-year history of the SSA), then the likely result would be: 1) Substantially higher ticket prices; 2) Substantial levies on the Cape & Island towns who (under the current SSA arrangement) are responsible for deficits; or 3) Both.

      If the SSA were dissolved and market forces were allowed to operate unrestrained, history suggests that the likely results might include: 1) The existing SSA vessels continuing in service under new owners; 2) Significantly more trips in the summer; 3) Significantly fewer trips in the winter; 4) Significantly greater variation in ticket prices; 5) Significantly greater complexity (and less flexibility) in booking, changing, etc. reservations; 6) The eventual emergence of a monopoly over vehicle and heavy freight service to the islands . . . as was the case from the 1880s until the formation of the original SSA in 1948.

      • The SSA justified buying out the private New Bedford boat by promising year around freight from New Bedford, they lied.
        Freight was significant part of the buyouts revenue.

  3. First off, I thought monopolies were illegal, but I guess that’s not so in the case of the SSA.

    There must be a reason that a year round competing ferry service can’t be put in place. Between freight service out of New Bedford, and the Cape and Islands transportation needs there certainly seems to be a population to support the need. This would also force the SSA to up their game, and improve their service and vessels!

    Every situation is different, but it wouldn’t hurt the SSA to see what other ferry services, like the one (or ones) that operates out of Puget Sound does. They may have the same problems as we do, but more than likely, the SSA might gain some insight as to ways of improving ferry service. Come on, SSA, give it a try and report back to the media so that we can all find out what’s going on!!!

  4. I have perhaps described in these pages the ferries that service the outer islands of North Carolina. First of all, they are FREE for passengers and vehicles. The costs are absorbed by the Tourist Board of North Carolina. It is a 45-minute trip to Ocracoke from the mainland, and passengers stay in their cars (horrors!) for the trip. The ferries resemble our freight boats. No reservations necessary; drive up to the dock and there is very little wait time before boarding. Now, of course there are no unions, but I can’t believe the Coast Guard doesn’t have at least some jurisdiction, which has always been an excuse for our costs. And of course, there is no food, not even coffee (or beer) en route. So Puget Sound, North Carolina — we have other models that we might study more intensely.

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