Dukes County Board Suggests Full Review of SSA Operations

By ALEXIS TONTI

Amid turmoil and turnover at the Steamship Authority, the Dukes County commissioners this week called on the boat line to steady itself by hiring a consultant for a full review of its operations.

"It is not our role to micromanage the Steamship Authority, but as representatives of the Islands and Gosnold, it is our role to advise when appropriate. We have here an interesting window of opportunity to do an analysis and consider a change in direction before a new manager comes in," said commissioner Robert Sawyer.

"All we want to do is work together to make the Steamship Authority run as best it can, and we should urge [management] to evaluate all aspects of its operation," said commissioner Roger Wey.

"This is a matter of necessity," declared commissioner Leonard Jason Jr.

The remarks came Wednesday night at the regular meeting of the Dukes County Commission.

Over the past month the SSA has come to a crossroads, with news about draft legislation to study the breakup of the boat line coming on the heels of the resignation of SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin.

Mr. Raskin announced his plans to step down in late June after two years on the job. He has not yet set a departure date.

Then just weeks ago news surfaced that an underground Nantucket group was making moves on Beacon Hill to study splitting up the boat line and setting up a system for separate accounting.

Now the county commissioners, who have adopted something of a watchdog role since the start of the year, are calling for a top-to-bottom evaluation of the public boat line that has been the lifeline to the two Islands since 1960.

Noticeably absent from the discussion Wednesday night was Vineyard SSA governor Kathryn A. Roessel.

The SSA board has its own plans to discuss the future of the boat line and the search for Mr. Raskin's successor in a workshop scheduled immediately after next Thursday's monthly meeting in Hyannis.

On Wednesday the county commissioners repeatedly said that Mr. Raskin's resignation provides a window of opportunity to study the boat line thoroughly, including its business plan, management structure and customer relations.

The commissioners tied their recommendation to an old analysis, the McKinsey Report, which was completed in 1994 by the consultant McKinsey and Company. The report examined the boat line's organizational structure and made a number of recommendations for change.

The county commissioners voted unanimously to urge the SSA to hire an outside consultant to update the 1994 report and to conduct an overall evaluation of the boat line. They also recommended bringing McKinsey and Company back on board if possible.

"It is a shame to see good plans and reports gather dust. Right now I think [the SSA] is dysfunctional, and it might help them to get back on track to have some outside source come in and say, here's where we are and where we should be going," said Mr. Jason.

"Ten years have gone by [since the report was issued], and that kind of analysis should be done periodically. The time is right to do a major rethink, and let's encourage them," said commissioner Paul Strauss.

"One key point made in 1994 was that some of these problems may be caused by confusion about the mission of the Steamship Authority," said Mr. Sawyer. "It is something fundamental that [management] may be forgetting and that has to be focused on periodically so we don't go adrift."