Steamship Authority Board Members Clash Over Chief Executive Officer Role

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Struggling with issues of governance and lines of authority, a sharply divided Steamship Authority board of governors failed to find common ground yesterday in an executive session that will ultimately determine the future for boat line chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin, who has been on the job for just four months.

The boat line board voted 2-1 to take the first steps toward what could lead to Mr. Raskin's departure, the Gazette has learned.

Vineyard SSA governor Kathryn A. Roessel, who cast the dissenting vote, said yesterday that she had decided to speak out about the executive session discussion, which took place without Mr. Raskin present. The executive session followed the monthly board meeting on Nantucket. The public portion of the meeting was marked by a relatively short and routine business agenda, although there was some discussion about the need to move forward on a growing list of longer-range projects.

Ms. Roessel later outlined her own disagreement with the other two board members over questions of governance and how the board and chief executive officer divide responsibilities and authority.

Disagreements between board members and Mr. Raskin have been building behind the scenes since he first took the job.

Mr. Raskin was hired in April after an eight-month search. He replaced general manager Armand Tiberio, who resigned in September after six years on the job. During the search process to find a replacement for Mr. Tiberio, the boat line board decided to change the job title from general manager to CEO.

The change in title was accompanied by a hefty salary hike - Mr. Raskin is paid an annual salary of $170,000, while Mr. Tiberio was paid about $90,000.

Mr. Raskin came on the job amid an auspicious new outlook for the boat line that has been buffeted by political problems and board turnover in the last year.

But there was trouble from the start when Mr. Raskin began to clash with individual board members; most of the collisions were over small issues, but soon larger questions began to surface about lines of authority between the board and the CEO.

Two months ago the board began to talk about the problems with Mr. Raskin in executive session. The talks were in fact precipitated by Mr. Raskin, who wrote a letter to board chairman and Falmouth governor Galen Robbins about the problems. In the letter Mr. Raskin raised questions about whether the board had overstepped its authority, possibly in violation of his contract.

In early July Ms. Roessel wrote her own letter to the other two board members outlining her concerns.

Yesterday Ms. Roessel said the executive session began on a somewhat sour note when the members of the financial advisory board were asked to leave. She said board members then began to have a frank discussion with Mr. Raskin about governing responsibilities, sparked in part by a memorandum written by Mr. Robbins.

"Fred looked at it and said, ‘This is good; I think it says that the board does the ends and it should be the responsibility of the CEO to get the means.' It seemed like it was heading in a good direction," Ms. Roessel said.

She said things came to a head after Mr. Raskin was asked to leave the room.

The board took a series of votes, first on whether board conduct has been intrusive (the board voted 2-1 that it had not, with Ms. Roessel dissenting). Ms. Roessel proposed that the board hold another meeting in a week to continue the talks, but she said her proposal was voted down by Mr. Robbins and Nantucket governor Grace Grossman.

Then she said Mr. Robbins moved to have an attorney contact Mr. Raskin's attorney. "The idea was to have this attorney get in touch with Fred's attorney and tell him we don't want to stay with the CEO model," Ms. Roessel said.

"I just want to say that I am really heartbroken about this; I really thought we were making progress - I was hopeful that we were making progress," she said.

"I was so proud that we found such a good executive and now I just don't know what we are going to do next. Where do we go from here? I think we have created a terrible leadership vacuum and I am not sure what's going to happen," she added.

Reached at his home in Andover last night, Mr. Raskin had little comment.

"I have nothing to say. I raised an issue with the board and I am ready to further discuss the issues," he said.

Mrs. Grossman said the vote taken yesterday was not about terminating Mr. Raskin.

"The vote was that the lawyer is to go to Fred and his lawyers and say that he has a choice: He can accept the fact that we are the Authority and he works for us or we will give him an exit package," Mrs. Grossman said.

"If he agrees to our terms that we are the Authority and he is to abide by our rules, then okay. If he won't, then we will go ahead with an exit package. He has a choice," she added.

Mr. Robbins was sharply critical of Ms. Roessel for jeopardizing the outcome of delicate contract talks by going public out of executive session.

"I think Cassie's behavior is despicable and I am very, very disappointed. It puts us all in a very difficult position, and it puts Fred in a very difficult position," Mr. Robbins said.

He was also critical of Mrs. Grossman.

"Grace and Cassie are in their corners and they are dug in. Cassie and Grace are both rigid and neither is correct. This has nothing to do with Fred and it has everything to do with the board," Mr. Robbins said.

He also defended his decision to exclude the financial advisory board from the executive session.

"Fred Raskin is in a difficult spot and I thought a smaller group was better. It turned out it was an error in judgment on my part that I thought the remaining board members could discuss a sensitive issue, a contractual issue and feel confident that it would not escape until it was necessary," he said.

Mr. Robbins reserved his sole words of praise for Robert O'Brien, the nonvoting member of the board from Barnstable.

"Bob O'Brien was the only one who rose above it all. It comes down to governance and we are at a crossroads. We need to do all these things, but we aren't going to get there if the board continues on this path," he said.