Falmouth Board Votes to Take Steps to Oust SSA Governor

By JULIA WELLS

FALMOUTH - - Adding fresh fuel to the fire that has burned around the Steamship Authority for months, the Falmouth selectmen voted 4-1 last night to take steps to remove Galen Robbins as the town boat line governor.

"Townspeople are in an uproar about this and I recommend we begin the process of removal," declared selectman Edward Marks.

"I believe that what's on the record is significant grounds and we may begin the process," said selectman Virginia Valiela.

"I am asking that we take some action because the longer this lingers in the public the more rancorous it will become," said selectman and board chairman Troy Clarkson.

"I think that this is clearly the direction we should go in, but I am very uncomfortable about where we are with this. . . . This should never have gotten to this point," said selectman Carey Murphy.

"It looks like I am the lone individual on this board, but there is a song that says only fools rush in where others fear to tread. . . . I want to let it be known that I don't think this is right," said selectman Ahmed Mustafa, who cast the sole dissenting vote.

The vote means the selectmen will now begin the formal process of taking disciplinary action against Mr. Robbins; the process will include a public hearing, where the selectmen will confront Mr. Robbins their grievances, and Mr. Robbins will have an opportunity to respond. Town administrator Robert Whritenour Jr. said the process may take four to six weeks.

The vote last night came one week after the Falmouth selectmen had a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Robbins, where they accused him of defying their policies, especially on the subject of New Bedford ferry service. At least one selectman asked Mr. Robbins to resign, but he refused and he also defended his actions as a boat line governor in the last year.

Mr. Robbins was not present last night, and he could not be reached for comment after the meeting. ln an exchange of letters with the town administrator late last week, Mr. Robbins was notified about the discussion that was planned.

Mr. Robbins was appointed in August of 2001 to fill the unexpired term of Edward DeWitt, who resigned midway through his first term. Mr. Robbins's term runs out in December.

At the outset last night Mr. Clarkson outlined clear boundaries for the discussion, which he said must focus on procedure and could not include any personal remarks or remarks about the performance of the Falmouth boat line governor.

"We are contemplating a legal process," Mr. Clarkson said.

He sketched three options for the board: do nothing, take a vote of confidence for Mr. Robbins, or vote to take steps to discipline, suspend or remove Mr. Robbins as the SSA governor.

In the end the board voted to take the latter step, and while Mr. Clarkson was careful to frame all the possibilities, the bent toward removing Mr. Robbins was unambiguous.

"I believe each of us takes this vote very seriously. It isn't very often that a town has a disagreement with a person; usually our disagreements are over the issues," said Ms. Valiela.

"I think to do nothing is unfair to us and to Galen and to the townspeople," said Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy appeared to be the only one of the four selectmen who was leaning more toward some kind of censure and not outright removal of Mr. Robbins.

Mr. Marks, who has publicly called for Mr. Robbins to resign more than once, made his own position clear. "Let the process begin," he said through a visible frown.

Mr. Mustafa raised sharp questions about fairness.

"He is not an outsider, he's a resident of this town," said Mr. Mustafa. Pointing out that Mr. Robbins only has a few short months left in his term, Mr. Mustafa suggested that the board simply take steps to advertise for a replacement.

Ms. Valiela disagreed. "He has four months left in his term, and there are a lot of important decisions to be made this fall. So I think we need to proceed," she said.