What Will Boat Line Chief Be Called? Chairman Says SSA Board Must Decide

By ALEXIS TONTI

As the dust settles at the Steamship Authority following chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin's resignation, the next step for boat line governors will be one of semantics.

"First we've got to make a decision as to whether we advertise for a CEO or an executive director or a general manager. One of those categories we've got to decide on," Barnstable governor and board chairman Robert O'Brien said yesterday.

Mr. Raskin told the SSA board about his plans to step down in an executive session after the monthly boat line meeting last Thursday.

Under the terms of his contract, Mr. Raskin's resignation is to take effect 30 days after it is tendered, but he agreed last week to stay on at his regular salary rate until a replacement is found.

In the past SSA treasurer Wayne Lamson has served as acting general manager in times of transition.

"We may have to do that, we don't know, but Fred has agreed to stay on, which we think is fine. That leaves Wayne to do his job, which is a very important one - and trying to do two jobs is not a fun thing to do," said Mr. O'Brien.

On Friday Mr. Raskin spoke with the Gazette about his decision, his relationship with the governors and what the next few months will bring.

"They're spending time on the initial thing again, it's Grace's [Nantucket governor Grace Grossman] old issue of whether you have someone called a general manager or a CEO," Mr. Raskin said.

The SSA board changed the title of the top post to CEO in August 2001 when it began a search to replace outgoing general manager Armand Tiberio.

"I don't view that as a big issue. Call them a rutabaga, call them whatever you want, [the board members] have to recognize it's the person who is responsible for the day-to-day operations," said Mr. Raskin.

Mr. Raskin, who just completed the second year of a five-year contract, has been mired in conflict with the governors over lines of authority almost from the outset of his tenure.

"Unless the board members - and there are some who don't quite agree with this - but unless board members are going to show up in Woods Hole every day, then you need someone to be the chief person and run the operation," said Mr. Raskin.

"It's important for the board to recognize that - to establish goals and objectives and have the person achieve them and be held accountable for them."

At the boat line meeting on Thursday there was a lot of talk about objectives and accountability, with the board delivering its CEO evaluation for the year. One part of the assessment measured Mr. Raskin's success against the goals set by the board last July.

"The board is planning to do that again next year, and that is moving in the right direction," said Mr. Raskin. "They see they have to set up some objectives and goals so that management can make progress and so they [the board] can deal with it if they don't make progress.

"Grace is not a believer in objectives, she says why can't we just be the best Steamship Authority we can be? The problem is, that doesn't get you there. You've got to find what is critical to service and to the economics of the thing, and set up goals and ways to achieve them. A management team can do that, but not if they are constantly bombarded with concerns . . . the selectmen, county commissioners, whoever," said Mr. Raskin.

For the past six months, Island residents and officials have spoken out against the SSA on a number of fronts, from advertising policies and security regulations to - at Thursday's meeting - the vehicle reservation system and guaranteed standby.

To illustrate his point, Mr. Raskin pointed to the standby debate, which dominated the public comment portion of the meeting as several residents argued back and forth with the board.

"Both Islands, but particularly the Vineyard, enjoy and demands instant platforms for the concern du jour, you know, stop everything and hear our complaints. But then you wind up having a lot of issues during the year, none of which get resolved, but we get off whatever else we're doing to address them," Mr. Raskin said.

Returning to the subject of his relationship with the governors, Mr. Raskin said, "Sure I have disagreements with the board and they have disagreements with me. But disagreements are fine, that's how you kick around ideas.

"But even they agree they do get too involved day to day. They can't help it. It's a unique makeup for a board, everyone has very different objectives and it makes for a less than optimal approach."

Mr. Raskin said he began to ask himself hard questions about his future at the boat line after deciding that the daily commute had become too much for him.

Although his salary package included a provision for the SSA to cover the brokerage fee on the sale of his home in Andover, Mr. Raskin never moved to the Cape and Islands region and instead kept up the four-hour commute.

"I just don't think I'm willing to commit [to the SSA] in the long term, and it would be expensive for the Steamship Authority to move me down here, and really in the end I don't think it would be in anyone's best interests," said Mr. Raskin.