Boat Line Budget Is Central Topic at Board Meeting

By ALEXIS TONTI

Steamship Authority governors meet on the Vineyard this week to take up the 2005 draft operating budget, operating schedules and the search for the new general manager, part of a packed agenda for the monthly boat line meeting.

Acting general manager Wayne Lamson said yesterday that he anticipates putting a $65 million to $70 million draft operating budget before the board for discussion.

"I think there will need to be some rate increases, although not across the board as in the past. The increases could be concentrated in one area versus another, say parking rates, areas that haven't gone up in five, six, seven years," Mr. Lamson said.

The boat line operates on a calendar year; the 2004 operating budget came in at $68 million.

The SSA meeting begins Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

Also on the agenda will be draft operating schedules through winter 2005; a report on vessel employee training programs, and a report by SSA general counsel Steven Sayers on the status of the 1997 agreement between the SSA and the town of Barnstable.

Signed as part of a complicated deal between the boat line and the town of Barnstable, the agreement calls for reducing truck traffic on the Nantucket run and naming an alternative port for freight by the end of 2003.

Two months ago the port council voted to name New Bedford as the likely alternative port.

On Thursday the board of governors is also expected to set a time line for the search for the new SSA general manager.

Mr. Lamson has served as the interim general manager since July, following the retirement of chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin. Mr. Lamson also has thrown his hat in the ring for the permanent job for the first time in his career.

In recent weeks the boards of selectmen in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury have sent letters endorsing the longtime respected boat line treasurer.

In a memorandum to the board last week, Ms. Roessel pushed for a tight application deadline with the aim of hiring a new general manager by mid-February. Last month, however, the other SSA governors resisted expediting the search.

In her memorandum Ms. Roessel also called on the SSA board to review its own role in boat line affairs:

"Hard work can fix [the SSA] but it will have to include hard work by the board. One cannot have good management without good policy, and good policy doesn't just happen. Furthermore, good policy cannot possibly be crafted in the four or five hours a month we typically spend working as a group. I realize that this is the way the board has traditionally operated, but this method is no longer giving us good results. Maybe it never really did," she wrote.

The Vineyard governor urged the board to turn the spotlight on itself by participating in workshop sessions with a professional facilitator to clarify the governors' role in setting policy - before conducting any interviews for the new manager.

The suggestion is rooted in the frequent tussles over lines of authority that took place between Mr. Raskin and the governors in monthly meetings over the past year. In the wake of his departure the SSA board recast the top post as that of general manager.

"This is going to require more work from each of us than we do now, but again - the way we are doing it now is clearly not working," Ms. Roessel concluded.