• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Dukes County Commission demands transparency

ByChad J. Johnson

Mar 17, 2022

Dukes County Commissioners met with State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, on Wednesday to discuss a bill involving the Steamship Authority.

Legislation tabled by Fernandes and State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, includes the appointment of a chief operating officer to the administration of the Steamship Authority, in addition to establishing term limits for all council members.

The concerns expressed within the Dukes County Commission had less to do with the specifics of the legislation and more with the process in which it was filed.

“Hearings were held, [but] there was no hearing here,” Vineyard SSA Board Member James Malkin said, “there was no discussion in any public forum with this community on this issue prior to the filing. of legislation.

This lack of communication is concerning, said Malkin, who argued vehemently that the appointment of an SSA chief operating officer should be a matter of advice rather than decided by the state. “The process did not allow elected officials or Island citizens to help address issues” that affect all Island residents. This lack of process does not serve the island or the legislature particularly” in terms of what is passed in Boston.

The failure to welcome representatives from Martha’s Vineyard into the conversation did not go down well, particularly with commissioners John Cahill and Tristan Israel and Joe Sollitto, a port council representative to the SSA. The Oak Bluffs select committee wasn’t even told about the bill until Sollitto, a former Duke County Superior Court clerk turned SSA port board member, told them- same, repeated Sollitto at the last meeting of the commissioners.

Fernandes told the commission that he contacted the commissioners and spoke to at least one port board member.

Because the SSA board approved the appointment of a chief operating officer at its March 15 meeting, Commissioner Cahill asked Fernandes if he would consider withdrawing the bill from the state. House.

Fernandes said he preferred the SSA to implement the COO itself. “It’s a huge victory in my mind. Julian and I deserve credit for doing this,” Fernandes said. “So we’re going to take that out of the bill.” It was my intention from the start that this was something we would push them to do and I’m glad we did.

The legislation was introduced due to apparent discomfort among Islanders over Steamships’ lack of accountability, Fernandes said. “It failed as a lifeline for Martha’s Vineyard.”

In 2018, the SSA missed more than 500 crossings on the Martha’s Vineyard Line due to mechanical failures. This resulted in an independent review of the management and operations of the SSA known as the HMS Report.

Fernandes cited the report, which he said highlights fundamental operational problems with the SSA that he found “deeply troubling”, pointing to overall management issues, lack of accountability, oversight and a culture of “complacency” which “is not conducive to long-term planning”. .”

Although changes were implemented after these findings, one change that had not been considered until recently was the appointment of a chief operating officer. The addition of the new administration position, which was put in place on March 15, aims to ensure accountability and invite greater public participation.

Fernandes said he had heard of the SSA and they would like to see the enabling legislation amended to remove a section that requires an annual report which is “obsolete”, he said.

Sean Driscoll, a spokesperson for the SSA, confirmed that the ferry company would like the wording changed to give them more time to produce the annual report. Currently, an audit is required by April 1, which is a “difficult request every year”, he said. The change would not eliminate the need for an audit, but would simply give the SSA until the end of June to complete it, he said.

Regarding term limits, Driscoll said no position has been taken by the SSA board. “It would depend on the appointing authorities,” he said.

Many DCC members were concerned, saying the decisions made to pass the bill without input from MV and Nantucket representatives created a sense of “disunity on the islands.”

“As the nominating body for our SSA representation, it would be beneficial for all of us to have an open procedural discussion,” Chair Christine Todd told Fernandes. Echoing other commissioners, she added that if there was just more public discourse, he would find the county supportive.

Sollitto expressed concerns about term limits imposed on SSA board members. “We elect the county commissioners, and I think it would be up to them if they want to set term limits,” he said, adding that he thought the proposed term limits should be removed from the draft. of law. “We don’t have term limits for State Representatives and Elected Officials or the State Senate, why have one for SSA members?” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Israel agreed with Sollitto, but said he had no problem with the chief operating officer appointment.

Fernandes responded that the position on the board “is appointed, not elected” — comparing it to similar appointed positions across the state, which often have a 10-year term limit.

Commissioner Keith Chatinover agreed with Fernandes, saying he supported the imposition of term limits, adding that without them, board members are likely to become “creatures of the board of directors of the SSA,” citing a disinterest in the “dark” issue among the island’s laity.

Despite numerous objections, Fernandes remained phaseless, downplaying the seriousness of the county’s concerns and doubting the public’s interest in the issue.

“Ultimately,” Fernandes said, “the steamer exists to act as a lifeline to the island and we want to make sure people have improved the reliability of the service,” adding that the legislation would introduce the opportunity for the county to exert “more power”.

Going forward, agreements have been made between Fernandes and the DCC to work towards a more transparent relationship.

In other cases, commissioners welcomed legislation to add a tribal representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The bill recently passed the House and will now go to the Senate where it is expected to receive a favorable response.