Boatline Interim Manager Will Tackle Reservations and Ticketing Problems

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

HYANNIS - Steamship Authority governors bid a quick adieu to chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin and voted without dissent yesterday to name Wayne Lamson, their longtime treasurer, as interim general manager for the next four months.

"Wayne, it's a pleasure, thank you," said Barnstable governor and board chairman Robert O'Brien during the monthly boat line meeting held here yesterday morning.

The board also voted 4-0 to formally thank Mr. Raskin, who has been on the job for two years. The CEO's contract expires on July 28 and he will be gone by next week, taking along $85,000 in severance pay.

Nantucket SSA governor Grace Grossman did not attend the meeting.

Asked in the meeting what he will be doing a year from now, Mr. Raskin said: "I don't know - hopefully having a good time, fishing, teaching an extra course or two in the fall. I'll be enjoying myself."

Mr. Lamson has worked at the boat line for 30 years and has been the treasurer since 1982. He is widely respected both inside and outside the organization, and has served as an interim general manager four times over the years.

Yesterday marked number five.

At a working session following the regular meeting, Mr. Lamson projected a quiet confidence and embraced without hesitation a short-term list of problems to tackle, including overhauling the arcane ticketing and reservations system, and cleaning up the terminals and the vessels.

Mr. Lamson's appointment drew sustained applause from a large group of employees who attended the meeting. By contrast, union employees turned up the volume on an informational picket in the parking lot outside the terminal building during Mr. Raskin's brief closing remarks.

But during the monthly treasurer's report, several minutes before his appointment, Mr. Lamson showed no union favoritism, proposing a conservative budget policy for the coming year that he said could include a reduction in workforce.

Mr. Lamson also confirmed that he has expressed an interest in a permanent post as general manager, something he has never done before.

After the meetings, Mr. Lamson said he decided to ask for the permanent job because he cares about the boat line. "I'll do whatever I can to help out," Mr. Lamson told the Gazette.

During the working session Tom Pachico, a Tisbury selectman and member of the SSA port council, urged the boat line board to cut to the chase and hire Mr. Lamson.

"You have someone sitting there right now from within that's already shown you that he can do the job and knows the politics of the job - I think what you should be searching for is a new treasurer," Mr. Pachico said.

"We may end up there, but we have to go through the process in fairness to everyone," replied Mr. O'Brien.

"If we just hired Wayne right now, we could all go to the beach," quipped Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel. In fact, Ms. Roessel has been quietly supportive of inquiries from one outside candidate for the permanent post - Tom Rancich, a West Tisbury resident and Navy SEAL who has done some consulting work for the boat line on anti-terrorism.

Mr. Rancich confirmed yesterday that he is applying for the position.

Boat line governors have received other resumes as well.

In a rare moment of personal candor, Mr. Raskin admitted that despite his own strong qualifications he somehow had not been the right match for the job.

"It's the difficulty of hitting a home run going outside - it's a more difficult path," he said.

The regular business meeting was relatively routine, but sparks flew for several minutes when two Tisbury selectmen urged the boat line governors to reconsider their decision to eliminate reimbursement for police coverage in Vineyard Haven.

The decision is rooted in the new 50-cent head tax which is intended to raise revenues for every port town. The tax was approved through special legislation filed late last year by the two members of the Cape and Islands delegation. Senior managers at the boat line have made no secret of the fact that they oppose the legislation, which among other things will cause administrative headaches.

"This is a big policy decision - we haven't budgeted for this," said selectman Tristan Israel. He called it a step backwards. "We've made a lot of progress over the years where the Steamship Authority has changed its attitude and said that they do bear some responsibility for what goes on beyond the gangplank," he said. Mr. Israel urged the boat line to at least hire a detail officer to direct traffic of the boat line property.

"To say ‘You've got impact money, we're not going to help you' - that would be a double standard. What about other projects like dredging - you're going to hear a lot of screaming from Tisbury if you continue with this policy," Mr. Israel said.

The comments drew the ire of the governors and Mr. Raskin - who said they had recently requested and received a legal opinion from a Boston attorney about the head tax legislation.

"We have a prominent lawyer who is saying be careful, this has a shaky constitutional foundation," Mr. Raskin said.

Falmouth governor Robert Marshall added his view.

"If in fact the Steamship Authority is going to start paying for police the bill that will come from Falmouth will cost the Vineyard more than you are collecting from the Steamship Authority," Mr. Marshall said in testy tones.

Mr. Pachico began to speak, but Ms. Roessel cut him off.

"Who are you representing?" she said.

"The town of Tisbury," he replied.

General counsel Steven Sayers cautioned Mr. Pachico that he may not be able to change hats from port council member to selectman in the middle of a meeting.

"You may get into trouble - I have to look at an opinion," the attorney said.

Mr. Marshall extolled the virtues of Donald Stern, the attorney with Bingham McCutchen who wrote the opinion. "This is a time bomb for you guys. Donald Stern is a very well respected [former] federal attorney and he is with one of Boston's most prestigious law firms," he said.

Mr. Sayers said later that he solicited the opinion with no board vote. It is not yet known how much the opinion will cost the boat line.

"It's a potential lawsuit out there forever - we think it may withstand constitutional attack if we interpret it correctly," Mr. Sayers said.

"Steve has covered the legal angle beautifully," Ms. Roessel said.