Falmouth Board Clashes Hotly with Its SSA Governor

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

FALMOUTH - - At a tense meeting that was marked by scattered calls for his resignation, Falmouth Steamship Authority governor Galen Robbins defended himself last night against a stream of accusations that he has defied the selectmen who are his appointing authority, especially on the subject of New Bedford ferry service.

"There is nervousness about whether you are acting in the best interests of the town, and it has been a major struggle," selectman Virginia Valiela told Mr. Robbins.

"It is not the Steamship Authority representative to Falmouth, it's the Falmouth representative to the Steamship Authority. No one questions that you are extremely talented, but if we direct you to make a bad decision, then you should do it, and we will pay the price at the polls," said selectman and board chairman Troy Clarkson.

"I will not make a bad decision, it makes no sense," replied Mr. Robbins.

"Every governor before you has carried our policies out and for some reason you refuse to - you just don't get it. I said this before and I'll say it again - gracefully resign," declared selectman Edward Marks.

Mr. Robbins said he would not resign, and he also denied that the boat line had voted in executive session two weeks ago to terminate the newly appointed SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin.

"There was no vote to fire, terminate, dismiss or oust Fred Raskin. It never happened," Mr. Robbins said. "I am confident that Fred has the ability and the skills to lead the board. But Mr. Raskin's longevity is tenuous at best if we cannot agree to adopt a model of governance that allows the board to govern and the CEO to manage," he added.

The taut exchange went on for nearly an hour and a half at the weekly meeting of the Falmouth selectmen.

Mr. Robbins was appointed last August to fill the unexpired term of Edward DeWitt, who resigned midway through his first term. The term runs out in December.

Mr. Robbins, who took over as SSA board chairman in January, has presided over a period of rough and tumble politics that peaked last week when the state Senate voted to approve a bill to overhaul the 42-year-old SSA enabling legislation. If the bill is signed by acting Gov. Jane Swift, the boat line board will be expanded from three to five members by adding voting seats for Barnstable and New Bedford.

Last night the Falmouth selectmen read Mr. Robbins the riot act on a long list of policies they said he had failed to carry out on their behalf, most of them centered on New Bedford ferry service. Mr. Robbins reminded the board that he had in fact voted to endorse both a freight program and a pilot high-speed ferry program between New Bedford and the Vineyard, but that New Bedford had pulled the plug on both the programs in a fit of political pique.

"We were ready to go with a freight program and a high-speed vessel, and we all know what happened," Mr. Robbins said.

But the selectmen had scant sympathy for the problems caused by New Bedford, and Mr. Clarkson said the real problem was Mr. Robbins' position against the proposed enabling legislation.

"This goes to the heart of the dysfunction, the disconnect in the relationship between this board and you," Mr. Clarkson said.

"I don't see a disconnect. I have always tried to reach out to the board of selectmen and I have always followed your advice," Mr. Robbins replied.

A handful of Falmouth residents voiced concerns about the conflict.

"This is kind of a classic issue of boards, and how much control do they actually have over the person they appoint … it does seem to me to be a little bit narrow to say, ‘You have to do exactly what we want,' " said Katharine Scott.

Frank Shephard, a Falmouth resident who has led a fight for years move some ferry service to New Bedford, called for both Mr. Robbins and Nantucket governor Grace Grossman to resign.

In the end the selectmen abruptly stopped short of any action, and the meeting moved on to other business.