SSA general manager receives raise despite negative reviews

The Steamship Authority Board gave a 4 percent pay raise to Robert Davis.

Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis, shown here at a past event in Vineyard Haven, received his annual review from the SSA Board. —MV Times

Two Steamship Authority (SSA) board members criticized the ferry service’s general manager on Tuesday, Sept. 26, giving him scores that didn’t reach 70 points out of 100 during this year’s annual evaluation.

Vineyard representative to the board Jim Malkin gave general manager Robert Davis a score in the 60s, and Falmouth representative Peter Jeffrey gave a score in the 50s.

That’s a stark difference from last year, when the board gave Davis an overall grading in the 90s during the annual review.

Earlier this month, the Port Council presented mixed results about Davis’ performance, some giving him scores in the 90s, while others were in the 70s. 

During the Tuesday morning board meeting, it wasn’t all bad news for the SSA general manager.

New Bedford representative Moira Tierney gave Davis a score of 85, and Barnstable representative Robert Jones gave a grade of 88. Nantucket representative and board chair Robert Ranney gave the highest grade, at 95. 

“On the Nantucket side, I think we are a little bit more forgiving when things take place, breakdowns and other things,” Ranney said, adding that Davis provides “creative solutions” for issues that arise on the Nantucket route. 

Less forgiving was Malkin, who scored Davis with a grade of 65. Malkin underscored problems with internal communication between departments, a need to improve collaboration between Davis and other departments, and a need for more proactive engagement with the traveling public. 

Malkin did have some praise for Davis, describing him as a “dedicated, extremely hard-working, and very, very knowledgeable individual.” And Malkin said he expects improvements will come with Steamship COO Mark Higgins taking on the daily operations of the ferry service that Davis used to perform. 

“I think it’s really, really important [for] Bob to work on the big picture, general manager stuff, and leave the day-to-day [duties] to our COO and our, I believe, very qualified senior staff,” Malkin said, pointing to talking with state legislators and pursuing grant funding as an example of what Davis needs to focus more on. 

Many parts of Jeffrey’s evaluation took issue with the processes that took place for various SSA projects that experienced delays and overruns. Jeffrey did praise the federal funding opportunities the SSA was able to acquire. He gave a score of 53. 

Although the grading was tougher this year, Davis received a slight pay bump in his contract. Last year, the board gave the general manager a 11.8 percent raise, to $207,500, as part of a new three-year contract. 

On Tuesday, the present board members unanimously voted to give Davis a 4 percent raise, after discussing it during executive session. 


  1. I wish that Robert Davis could better convey to all Steamship Authority employees that they are not only a lifeline service for island residents but they are also a hospitality organization. They are the first people that everyone interacts with when coming to the island–on the reservation lines, in the parking lots, on the busses, at the vehicle checkpoint in Woods Hole, in the ticket office, as they load the boats, as they ride on the boats, and as they disembark in VH and OB. Islanders and tourists remember these interactions. The more that can be done to make all folks feel welcomed (or welcomed back) to the island is critical to the future of the Steamship Authority. Unfortunately, as I travel back and forth throughout the year, I often feel that there is a disconnect to the “hospitality” concept of the organization. How can this be improved moving forward?

    • Who did you vote for County Commissioner?
      Are you shocked at who they appointed to the Board of Governors?
      You have no idea no ideas how idea how the General Manager is hired?
      We have a democracy in the Grand Ole USA!
      Sort of.

  2. I honestly appreciate the remarks Ben Robinson made. He said boat owners in Vineyard Haven are complaining that soot from the Island Home accumulates on their boats.
    I love sailing to VH to feast on the classic Alden schooners and modern classics that Nat Benjamin designs.
    So I sympathize with what the soot does to those beautiful boats.
    But please sympathize with what it’s doing to our LUNGS in Woods Hole, where the SW wind blows into our homes.

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