Authority Members Talk Tomorrow About Future of the Chief Executive

By ALEXIS TONTI

The future of the Steamship Authority will be decided this week when chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin steps behind closed doors to tell the boat line board of governors whether he will resign.

At a meeting Wednesday, "I believe that Fred Raskin intends to tell us whether or not he plans to stay for the full term of his contract," Vineyard SSA governor Kathryn A. Roessel said.

A special meeting of the SSA board will be held on the Island that day, one day before the board's regular monthly meeting.

"We are having the executive session in advance of the regular meeting so we have plenty of time to discuss the board's response to his announcement," said Ms. Roessel.

The Wednesday meeting starts at 2 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the Vineyard Haven SSA terminal. Board members are expected to vote immediately to go into executive session.

The regular meeting of the boat line board begins Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

In April, Mr. Raskin gave written notice to the SSA board, triggering a process that could lead to his resignation under the complicated terms of his contract.

Mr. Raskin's notice also opened the door for the SSA governors to fire him; for his job description to revert to a "CEO model," giving him more power and decision-making authority; or for his contract to be amended or renegotiated.

Tensions have been running high for awhile between Mr. Raskin and the SSA governors, with friction between management and board members coloring nearly every debate on boat line issues in recent months - from new security rules to the now largely defunct advertising program.

Mr. Raskin also has drawn fire from Island officials, among them the Tisbury selectmen, who are on the SSA agenda Thursday to ask the governors to overturn Mr. Raskin's decision to stop reimbursing the town for police control and traffic assistance.

Paying the Island's port towns for police assistance and traffic control is a well-established practice at the boat line. In recent years Oak Bluffs has received $19,000 annually and Tisbury more than $30,000 annually.

But with a new stream of revenue coming from the embarkation fee - which state legislation says is earmarked for public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements - Mr. Raskin has said the SSA is no longer obligated to help out.

The embarkation fee amounts to a 50-cent charge that is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger ticket for ferries traveling between the Cape and the Islands. The money is collected by ferry operators and then paid to the town where the trip originates.

The Tisbury selectmen have led the charge to revoke management's decision, saying the boat line must bear responsibility for its impact on the downtown area. They have lined up support from both of the Island's state legislators, although - in an unexpected split several weeks ago - the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted not to stand with them on the issue.

Mr. Raskin would not comment yesterday on the scheduled executive session. But tension over roles surfaced in his comments about whether the SSA governors have the right to overrule him on the reimbursement.

"The board always has authority over any issue it wants. It delegates or should delegate all operating decisions to management, because unless you show up day in and day out you really don't know," Mr. Raskin said.

"The board typically handles policy issues, and you can call this a policy issue if you want," he said.

He then reaffirmed his position on the embarkation fee.

"If someone reads this statute, there isn't any colorable argument that this statute was not meant to cover this type of expenditure. To pay it would be double recovery," Mr. Raskin said.

"We'll discuss it, and whatever the board decides will be fine. But you don't want management willy-nilly giving out $50,000 here and $50,000 there. It doesn't serve our passenger constituency," he said.

Also on the agenda for Thursday's meeting is an update on the Oak Bluffs terminal reconstruction project.

Last week the SSA withdrew its permit application from the Oak Bluffs conservation commission in order to address questions and other concerns that had been raised about the project's environmental impact.

Ms. Roessel and Mr. Raskin will meet with the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen today at 6 p.m. during the regular selectmen's meeting to discuss the issue.

"I feel confident that everything is going to get straightened out. Hopefully we can sort out any problems in a calm and reasonable way. Nobody at the SSA wants to do anything that Oak Bluffs doesn't want us to do," said Ms. Roessel.